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Does the justice system need modernisation?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 15/07/15

Following recent announcements from Michael Gove, the UK’s Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the legal sector has been hotly debating proposed changes in funding. But are there any other changes that would actually benefit the legal arena?

The recent suggestion that docks in courts should be abolished – because of their expense and logistical issues – is one example of the radical changes being proposed across the sector. The reaction to this was mixed but encouraged a wave of questions about whether should there be more reform in the administration of justice. One of the supporters of this suggestion was the Lord Chief Justice himself. Many, including him, believe that although the UK’s legal system is renowned for its quality of advocacy and absence of corruption, some of its administration practices are antiquated.

There is a danger of the UK system becoming a two-nation justice system; oligarchs divorcing at the high court may have a vastly different experience to some rape victims who are made to wait years for their cases to be heard at crown courts. We have heard of witnesses being sent home because of a last-minute postponement or even because of missing paperwork. Last year alone, 33,000 cases did not proceed as they should have because administrative errors led them to be deemed “ineffective” – these ended in delay or even collapse.

Far too many of these processes are still done on paper, prompting the question of why parts of the sector haven’t embraced the digital revolution in the same way as other sectors. Could we not substitute some difficult-to-reach meetings with email or Skype? Osborne has allocated a budget of £750 million for courts to update their IT infrastructure, and delay would be misadvised. Perhaps tightening up the administration of cases would provide a revolution in the judicial system.

Tell us what you think.