In May 2021, HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) launched a Damages Claims Portal pilot scheme (DCP), a digital scheme for the issuing and initial progression of litigation in certain claims. On 4 April 2022, the DCP became mandatory for all claimant legal representatives dealing with claims in the County Court which come within the scope of PD 51ZB. The DCP is set to become mandatory for defendants from 2 June 2022.
What claims does the DCP apply to?
The DCP is applicable to all damages claims which would traditionally follow the Part 7 claims process in the County Court, provided that:
- The claim is not made under one of the provisions of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
- The claimant is aged 18 years or over, or if under 18 has a litigation friend.
- The claimant is not a protected party.
- The claimant does not have a civil restraint order or similar in force against them.
How does it work?
The service allows legal representatives to progress claims digitally up to providing information for a directions questionnaire. Cases are then referred to a judge for track allocation and managed in the usual way, under the Civil Procedure Rules.
In the long term, HMCTS’ goal is to create an end-to-end transformed digital service for claims in the county court, from pre-action to enforcement.
Interestingly, as the DCP is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, claims can be issued at any time on any day. The system provides for the upload of information by PDF and provides online notifications.
The DCP potentially removes a significant amount of time spent by court staff processing claims allowing them to focus on more urgent matters. Ultimately, time will tell as to whether the HMCTS programme and more specifically, the DCP, will achieve the desired objective of bringing a large proportion of the civil justice system on-line.
Impact on defendants
Law firms will be developing streamlined processes in order to ensure a smooth transition to the DCP. The absence of API integration is a major issue in this regard.
At present the DCP is only available to legal representatives and as such, should parties not wish to instruct solicitors to accept service, they can request that the claimant’s solicitor serve proceedings directly against the insurer or defendant.
In these circumstances, the case will be issued by way of the DCP but then fall out to be served in the traditional way.
What does the future hold for the DCP?
According to HMCTS, by the end of 2022, the DCP will introduce the ability:
- For a judge to provide Standard Directions Orders on a case after reviewing the digital case file – also known as allocation to track.
- For a legal representative to request and receive an Interim Judgment with subsequent Judges Directions Order for damages.
- For a legal representative to issue a ‘general’ application, facilitate the respondent to reply to the application (when required) and for the judge to make an order.
While the end goal of HMCTS is admirable, the pace at which the implementation is being driven through, against the backdrop of an immature system that has not undergone robust testing, does cause concern for many.