Last month, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals published their joint report, ‘Transforming Our Justice System’. Unlike a lot of legal reports, the destruction of several rainforests was not necessary to produce this one as it only runs to a measly 16 pages. To paraphrase Statler and Waldorf, the Muppet Hecklers, the only thing I like about it is that it is short!
Of course, there is a startlingly obvious reason that it is short. It does not actually say anything! In fact, I can sum it up in a sentence; our legal system is the best in the world but it needs to keep evolving to stay that way. I feel changes made other recent years have reduced the quality of our system so I agree that further changes are needed but no details are given regarding the logistics of this so I think I will place my stance at ‘suspicious’.
I am suspicious because I spend a fair proportion of my working life dealing with the civil courts. I remember it being said that the introductions of the County Court Business Centre and County Court Money Claims Centre would make my life infinitely better. That was a lie. Both centres are slow, inefficient and seem to be run by staff that have never been trained in anything. I remember when I could walk down to Banbury County Court and get a claim issued quickly and easily whilst being helped by friendly and knowledgeable staff. If I issue a non-bulk claim now, I have to send it to the CCMCC and wait. And wait. And wait. Eventually, usually after I have given up all hope, the sealed claim appears. It is not just issuing claims that is difficult these days, literally doing anything to do with a civil claim is made unbearably tedious whilst a claim is still with the CCBC or CCMCC. Ergo, I am very suspicious of any ‘improvements’ proposed because, lets face it, the majority of changes that occur are pushed through for financial reasons not because it actually assists justice.
Amongst the 16 pages of the report, the Civil Court improvements are given a page and a bit. The first couple of paragraphs explain how brilliant London firms are at dealing with their international clients so is not really relevant to most of us mere regional bods. The rest of the report contains loads of buzz words and phrases; more swiftly, greater choice, minimum of stress and acrimony, consumer-focused models, automate and digitise, digital working, handled faster, more convenient, improving the experience, control the costs, informed decisions, extending the powers. All of this sounds brilliant but where are the details? How exactly is this going to be achieved?! I’ve seen these buzz words before and we ended up with the CCBC and CCMCC. It also seems very hypocritical that lawyers are constantly being told how civil claim costs are too high but it seems to be ok for the Court to make huge percentage increases to court fees on a six-monthly basis.
It seems very odd that the report mentions none of the real problems that users of the court system face and that it does not identify any specific changes that will be made. We have all faced that huge disappointment when our favourite food products are made subject to a ‘new and improved recipe’ which turns out to be anything but and I fear that these court improvements are going to lead us down much the same path once again.
Maybe I’m just getting old but maybe, just maybe, not all change and ‘improvements’ work out for the best particularly when the improvements are unlikely to fix any of the real problems that currently exist. I feel that most of the changes that will be made will simply be done so to ‘save’ money. It is not justice that needs transforming but the means that we are currently being forced to use to get there and until someone who actually uses the system is consulted regarding changes this unhelpful situation will remain.