Let me confess at once that I missed the Civil Procedure Rule Committee Open Meeting on Friday, which limits somewhat my scope for writing about it. Mind you, I thought it was the Rule Committee Open Day and was quite looking forward to it all.
I had envisaged wall displays of last year’s work showing the progression of a sub-sub-rule from the back of a fag packet on the train via lots of scribbled-on drafts and the minutes of several committee meetings through to the printing of the next edition of the CPR.
I thought there would be a tableau showing monks scribbling away to keep up with Henry II’s new rules for the Court of Common Pleas, and a re-enactment of that cartoon in which an apoplectic Master bollocks a terrified advocate because his affidavit was bound with the wrong coloured ribbon. We would have balloon races – see if yours with “CPR 31” printed on it got further than boring old “CPR 28”. At tea-time the Red Devils would parachute into the Strand in wigs and gowns and we would all go home with goody-bags.
I gather that it was not much like that at all.
I am all in favour of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee, despite my absence from their open meeting. Indeed, anything emanating from the state which has the word “open” in it, and means it, is something of a rarity these days.
The Civil Procedure Rule Committee was established by the Civil Procedure Act 1997. Section 1(1) says baldly that “There are to be rules of court (to be called “Civil Procedure Rules”) governing the practice and procedure to be followed in:
(a) the civil division of the Court of Appeal,
(b) the High Court, and
(c) county courts”.
Section 2(1) provides that “Civil Procedure Rules are to be made by a committee known as the Civil Procedure Rule Committee”.
The crisp tone continues through the Act, which is impressively short for something of such import. Take for example the requirements for amending the rules. Section 2(6) says that “The Civil Procedure Rule Committee must, before making or amending Civil Procedure Rules –
(a) consult such persons as they consider appropriate, and
(b) meet (unless it is inexpedient to do so).”
You can’t ask for much less than that. Section 2(7) provides that “The Civil Procedure Rule Committee must, when making Civil Procedure Rules, try to make rules which are both simple and simply expressed.” You can see where the CPR itself got its tone from.
So it is the Rule Committee which considers and drafts new rules and amendments, thrashing out the wrinkles at nine or so meetings in a year, one of which (since last year) is a public meeting where guests can watch the committee at work and ask questions.
No trivial business this. Except where the value limits and certain other criteria provide for differences, the rules have to apply across the board. There are a lot of them and they range from very broad statements of principle to minutiae so minute that they can only ever have applied to the case which inspired them.
The composition of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee is laid down in Section 2 of the Civil Procedure Act – fifteen in all including one of every type of judge – the Master of the Rolls, five other brands of judge, a Master, three solicitors, three barristers, one Consumer Affairs member and a lay advice member.
The “open” bit is important, as is the fact that the people who make the rules are those who are involved from one end or the other in their implementation.