As part of our new strategy, JUSTICE is returning to working more closely with our members. In April 2015, we published a Working Party report on Delivering Justice in an Age of Austerity, focused on the civil courts and tribunals, at Herbert Smith Freehills.
Access to justice is the most basic requirement of our legal system. Without effective access to justice, other fundamental freedoms and rights cannot be enforced and become no more than an empty promise. Yet the ability of ordinary people to access our justice system is dangerously limited. Cuts to legal aid and the publicly subsidised advice sector mean that legal advice and representation, already costly, has become impossible to obtain for most people. At the same time, demand for urgent legal advice is increasing as front-line services and welfare benefits are cut.
The members of the Working Party were:
The Rt. Hon Sir Stanley Burnton (Chair)
Sir Geoffrey Bindman KC
Amanda Finlay CBE
Sir Paul Jenkins KCB KC
Nigel Pleming KC
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff CBE
Professor Richard Susskind OBE
Andrea Coomber, JUSTICE
Their work was generously supported by Herbert Smith Freehills.
The Working Party report Delivering Justice in an Age of Austerity was published in April 2015. The report recommends the following: The introduction of a new primary dispute resolution officer (a “registrar”) who will be responsible for proactively case managing disputes as well as actively resolving the majority of cases through a combination of mediation and early neutral evaluation. Judges will continue to resolve those cases requiring high-level judicial expertise in the ordinary way. And an integrated online and telephone platform offering comprehensive legal information, advice and assistance, helping litigants to navigate their way through the newly reformed justice system.
Drawing on the collective and unparalleled expertise of the Working Party’s membership across the profession, the report sets out a vision of systemic change to the way our civil courts and tribunals resolve disputes. Importantly, the registrar model will significantly increase access to justice for litigants in person, who under the current system are automatically disadvantaged by their inability to obtain costly legal assistance and representation. Qualified, trained and empowered, the registrar will guide litigants through the civil courts and tribunals. At the same time, the use of lower-level officers represents a sizeable saving on the relatively expensive judicial time currently being used up in performing similar functions in the wake of recent austerity measures and the corresponding rise in litigants in person.
While the report represents a radical and important contribution to improving access to justice in England and Wales, the Working Party is keen to emphasise that it should not in any way be taken as an endorsement of the cuts to legal aid, nor as a justification for introducing further cuts.
Speaking on the launch of the report to an audience drawn from all corners of the legal profession, Working Party Chair The Rt. Hon Sir Stanley Burnton described how the proposals for reform have the potential to hugely increase access to justice for ordinary citizens: “The right of every person to obtain justice, by access to independent and impartial courts, is an essential element of the Rule of Law and of our democracy. For most people, including the working people so often referred to by our politicians, that right has become illusory. Our recommendations, if implemented, will ensure that ordinary people do have genuine and real access to justice, and in the medium term will lead to a less costly system of justice in our country.”
The Lord Chief Justice, The Rt. Hon Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, used his address to welcome the report as a “major way forward” which offers a “soundly based approach” for the profession, politicians and public to consider.
An annexe to the report on legal expenses insurance is also available. Hard copies of the report can be provided upon request.
The JUSTICE Working Party on Delivering Justice in an Age of Austerity regrets that the report contains the following errors:
In paragraph 2.7, the 2013 figures for judicial mediation in the Employment Tribunal refer to the Tribunal in Scotland. The figures for the Employment Tribunal (England and Wales) are even more impressive and should have been used. Of all cases subject to judicial mediation in the Employment Tribunal (England and Wales) in 2014, 69% were successfully mediated, saving a total of 1191 hearing days had a judicial determination been required in those cases.
In the acknowledgments section, Caroline Sheppard’s correct title should be listed as Chief Adjudicator, Traffic Penalty Tribunal.
In the acknowledgments section, Judge Bennett should be listed as Judge Jeremy Bennett.
The online version of the report has been updated to reflect these corrections. We sincerely apologise for the error and any inconvenience caused.