Gove to challenge the “dangerous inequality at the heart of our system”

Gove to challenge the “dangerous inequality at the heart of our system”

In a speech given today at the Legatum Institute, justice secretary Michael Gove said that there will be further court closures as he seeks to build a more efficient and streamlined justice system.

The government is reviewing the existing court estate and will shut those that are not running close to capacity. The government closed 142 courts in the last parliament. “It makes more sense to deliver a more efficient court estate than, for example, make further big changes to the legal aid system,’ he said.

Gove also promised a review of ongoing criminal legal aid reforms and said there are no plans for further cuts on top of those already announced.

Signalling a radical approach, the justice secretary pledged that those who make the most money out of the courts would be required to hand back additional benefits and expertise to help improve the justice system. He did not spell out how such contributions would be extracted – whether in terms of payment or pro bono work – but indicated legislation could be involved.

Speaking of the “dangerous inequality at the heart of our system” he said: “There are two nations in our justice system at present. On the one hand, the wealthy, international class who can, for example, choose to settle cases in London with the gold standard of British justice. And then everyone else, who has to put up with a creaking, outdated system to see justice done in their own lives. The people who are let down most badly by our justice system are those who must take part in it through no fault or desire of their own: victims and witnesses of crime, and children who have been neglected.

“The waste and inefficiency inherent in such a system are obvious. But perhaps even more unforgivable is the human cost. It is the poorest in our society who are disproportionately the victims of crime, and who find themselves at the mercy of this creaking and dysfunctional system” he said.

On civil justice he said: “The current system adds to stress at times of need, and restricts access to high quality resolution of disputes by simply being too complex, too bureaucratic and too slow. Across our court and tribunal system we need to challenge whether formal hearings are needed at all in many cases, speed up decision making, give all parties the ability to submit and consider information online, and consider simple issues far more proportionately.”

The reform programme which the judiciary want to implement is being planned now. There is already commitment to investment in the technology which will underpin it. This reform programme could liberate tens of thousands of individuals from injustice and free hundreds of thousands of hours of professional time.

Responding to the speech, Lord Falconer, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said: “People will be bemused by the sight of the justice secretary complaining of a two-nation justice system. Since the Tories took office, access to justice has been all but dismantled for the poorest in our society.”

Interviewed today on ‘The World at One’ Andrew Caplen, President of the Law Society, welcomed the commitment to reform but expressed doubts about the speed of change. He also said that pro bono work was no substitute for legal aid, with currently 42% of cases valued at £601m benefitting from pro bono. He said that it was the Government’s responsibility to make sure the system is properly funded.

Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, said: “It is ironic that at the very same time as he attacks the two-nation system, the new lord chancellor is proceeding with his cuts to the legal aid system and his forced consolidation plan [of solicitors’ contracts].”

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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