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The Department of Justice has recently launched a 12-week consultation on increasing the jurisdiction of the County Court in Northern Ireland.
The consultation primarily focuses upon increasing the jurisdiction of the County Court to align the Court structure in Northern Ireland with that in other jurisdictions. A number of these recommendations are from the Gillen Review.
The consultation sets out two proposals to change the jurisdiction of the County Court as follows:-
1. Increasing the general civil jurisdiction of the County Court from its current limit of £30,000 to £60,000, with an increase in the jurisdiction of the District Judges from £10,000 to £20,000.
2. Increasing the general civil jurisdiction of the County Court to £100,000, with an increase for District Judges to £35,000.
The consultation paper seeks to enable access to justice in accordance with the overriding objective, namely expediency and proportionality. Should the jurisdiction of the County Court change, the scale fees will undoubtedly need to be revised. The scale fees provide certainty for litigants in the County Court jurisdiction. It is likely a separate consultation process would be required to review the current statutory scales.
The consultation also considers whether complex clinical negligence cases should be reserved as strictly within the jurisdiction of the High Court or if they should retain the current upper limit of £30,000. Secondly, it is also considered whether County Court Judge’s should have the statutory power to remove cases from the County Courts to the High Court to expedite matters. Lastly, there is also a proposal to increase the jurisdiction for defamation cases from £3,000 to £10,000. This is in line with the Gillen Review. In defamation actions before the High Court there is the right for parties to elect to a trial by jury as provided for in Section 62 of the Judicature (Northern Ireland) Act 1978. Should the jurisdiction be increased, further consultation may be required.
The consultation runs until 30 April 2021 and views are welcomed on the recommendations. The consultation paper can be found at https://www.justice-ni.gov.uk/consultations/consultation-increasing-jurisdiction-county-court.