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Editorial: Looking Ahead to 2017 - Aidan Ellis, Temple Garden Chambers

22/12/16. As 2016 draws to a close, it feels more difficult than ever to make predictions for the year ahead. Politically, a period of uncertainty beckons. Although we know that Brexit negotiations will start next year, it seems wholly futile to try to guess what kind of deal might result. It is also too early to contemplate the domestic legal consequences. After a ‘great repeal bill’, what, if anything, will fill the gaps left by European law? Leaving the European Union could also re-open other debates which potentially impact on aspects of personal injury law, including that surrounding repeal of the Human Rights Act.

That personal injury litigation faces a period of uncertainty is therefore wholly consistent with the broader national mood. The immediate concern surrounds lower value cases, with the intention not only to impose a fixed tariff on whiplash cases but also to push many more personal injury cases onto the small claims track. But it would be a mistake to imagine that higher value cases will remain unscathed; the momentum is gathering behind the introduction of fixed fees at least onto the lower reaches of the multi-track.

Meanwhile, the programme of Court closures continues. Bow County Court, for instance, is well on the way to closure; the Courts and Tribunal Service website helpfully advises that new divorce cases should be sent to the Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre more than 70 miles away. Their civil cases have largely been moved to Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court, which is building a reputation for a ferocious floating list of fast track trials. Although Court staff are doing the best that they can, the waiting time for applications and trials is only likely to increase in the short term.

There does not appear to have been an immediate slow-down in the number of civil cases, compared for instance with the impact of new costs on employment cases. But as I look ahead to 2017, it is with a renewed sense that the detail of coming legislative reforms could have a dramatic impact on our sector.

Aidan Ellis
Temple Garden Chambers

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