|Lord Chief Justice wants to see court hearings in pubs|
As Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas is the most senior judge in the country (I’m not entirely sure how that is the case since he sits in the Court of Appeal and you’d think the President of the Supreme Court would be the boss, but clearly that’s the hierarchical mess you’re left with when you appoint non-judges to the role of Lord Chancellor) and he wants to modernise the justice system.
Lord Thomas has come up with the bright idea of judges pitching up in pubs, town halls and hotels to hear cases – I doubt it’s all his idea, I suspect that one of the 24% of alcoholic lawyers in practice may have guided him. In fact, I’m sure I’ve heard this idea before but last time it was the Ministry of Justice who were planning to open courts in shopping centres.
I must admit that I quite like the idea of a pint during trials, would make things flow well. Could bring back smoking too, I know we’re not supposed to say or think it but I always thought smoking looked kinda cool.
How sensible are these plans? Not very is my opinion. Cases are frequently becoming more technical, by which I mean more evidence is being served and presented during hearings electronically on screens in court. Can you imagine the cost of setting up screens and click-share at the bar of the Red Lion? It’s also worth remembering that courts are supposed to be places in which Her Majesty’s judge’s dispense justice in the name of Her Majesty. The idea of deciding important matters while sitting in a Travel Inn on the M5 just doesn’t seem compatible with that purpose. You may well be thinking “ahh yes, Nick. But, surely they’d only be dealing with minor cases not important ones?” Well you’re probably correct – the case probably isn’t important to you in the slightest but it may well be important to the people involved. It might only be a dispute over whether a fence is on John’s land or Sarah’s land but to them it’s a big deal.
The evolution that Lord Thomas is touting, and which might actually happen, is a move towards online justice. I’m not wholly comfortable with it myself but I gather the idea is to get more people handling their own cases online without recourse to solicitors. I’m not comfortable with that for a number of reasons. The main ones are that lots of people aren’t computer savvy and even today I find surprisingly young people who have no email address – only last week I met a 21 year old who has no access to a computer, smart phone, etc.
More importantly from Lord Thomas’s point of view is that people have very funny ideas about what the law is (or should be). You only have to look at the comments pages of most newspapers to see that people really have no idea, e.g. I read a story that somebody died in a fire and that Boris Johnson had cut the number of fire engines in that area from 5 to 2. Below the story were urgent calls for Mr Johnson to be tried for murder, corporate manslaughter and a whole host of other crimes. You see that kind of thing all the time and it’s not because people are stupid but because they really have no idea what the law says.
With that in mind what happens if we remove lawyers from the mix and encourage people to go to law by themselves? I’d suggest the answer is that a lot of cases that would previously have be stopped by advice from a solicitor will clog up the courts and cause lots of delays, which is precisely what happened when legal aid was removed from family proceedings.
The government no doubt hopes to mitigate the delays caused by litigants in person bringing cases that should never see the inside of a court by pushing people towards non-court options, such as mediation. The reality though is that mediation is unsuitable in many cases and so the chances are we’ll see even more court delays in future