Government plans for ‘lawyerless’ courts could undermine the independence of the judiciary, the Bar Council has warned in its response to the Briggs review. As reported here, Lord Justice Briggs’s argued that there was ‘a clear and pressing need’ to create a lawyer-free online court for claims up to £25,000 in his interim review.
The barristers’ group said that Lord Justice Briggs’s proposals in a review commissioned by the Lord Chief Justice and Master of Rolls would represent a ‘fundamental shift’ in our judicial processes.
‘The Bar Council fully supports justice reforms that bring efficiencies and better use of resources, but these proposals risk entrenching a system of two-tier justice,’ said Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, chairman of the Bar Council. ‘Individuals navigating a ‘lawyerless’ online court process could easily find themselves in litigation with big organisations who can afford to hire their own legal teams. Not being able to recover costs for advice or representation will mean leaving those who need it most to litigate without any legal assistance, which would put them at a significant disadvantage.’
‘These proposals would also mark a shift towards an inquisitorial system of justice, which has major implications for the judiciary, the risks and costs of which have not been assessed.’
Chantal-Aimée Doerries, Bar Council
The Bar Council argued that using case officers in an online court ‘with a quasi-judicial role’ would mark ‘a shift to a career judiciary which risks reducing the status and independence of the judiciary. The proposals would also add to the digital divide as not all parties would have access to ‘an email address, scanner, PC and landline, which would be pre-requisites of this approach for obtaining justice’; and a court with ‘no legal costs implications could well be attractive to those seeking to make fraudulent claims’.
Plans that involve the ‘widespread dismantling of existing court structures would need rigorous testing and evaluation as well as careful piloting’, Doerries said. ‘Changes of this magnitude go to the heart of our system of justice and should also be subject to parliamentary oversight. Our legal system is the envy of the world, but these proposals have the potential to damage that well-deserved reputation.’
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