Long before the pandemic big changes were happening in the courts. Legal aid was effectively pulled as the government tried to save money during the ‘austerity years’. Courts were also closed and there was a starvation of cash. The pandemic hit and the courts went into meltdown. Their IT resources clearly could not cope as we all went paperless and we carried on our work in a virtual world working from home. What effect has this had on justice and how has this affected our clients?
Well unfortunately Lady Justice is no longer brandishing her sword and her scales of justice. She is still blindfolded but now has her hands tied behind her back.
The effect we have seen is as follows; The first effect is we have more litigants in person. An own goal for the government as they are now clogging the court system and part of the reason for the huge delays at court (despite what the politicians will have you believe). When clients ask me to describe what it’s like with a litigant in person on the other side, I liken it to having a few beers for Dutch courage and then going into an operating theatre with my scrubs accessed on the internet and offering to take over from the surgeon. Not a good idea. The point is that litigants in person are not trained and this has consequences; normally delay and more costs for the represented client. They can also be as unreasonable as they like without fear of reproach.
The court system has also failed. This has had the effect of huge delays in having cases resolved by agreement or when a judge is needed to act judicially and make decisions. This, again causes more cost to our clients. Are there any plus sides of this perfect storm? Yes there are.
We now have a new world where we advise our clients to avoid court at all costs. The judiciary is also in support of this (which is a bit odd as without customers, do we need a judiciary and a court service at all?). We call it Alternative Dispute Resolution or signposting away from the court. The former is using mediators, collaborative lawyers and arbitration. The latter is hiring private judges (normally barristers) to hear cases to try and effect resolution. All can save time, significant cost and provide certainty with the right clients and the right lawyers.
What’s my diagnosis Doctor? Well it may look bad but I think it’s all going to be alright.
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