JusticeWatch: ‘The dead rat is still there…’

Justice in a time of austerity
The BBC’s home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani made an unpleasant discovery at the Royal Courts of Justice. ‘The dead rat is still there,’ he tweeted. He couldn’t attach a photo because ‘that’s a breach of the law banning filming in courts’. ‘So here, for the one and only time, is my attempt at a court sketch,’ he said.

A brave new dawn (for billing practices)
Solicitor leaders ‘grudgingly acknowledged’ that ‘a brave new dawn for law-firm billing practices’ had arrived, reckoned The Times’ Brief. ‘Controversial rules imposed by regulators came into effect this morning that will require lawyers to publish their fees prominently – a move that has caused apoplexy among some,’ it reported (here).

Phoning it in
Lawyers and judges ‘should start preparing for a world in which access to judicial processes comes mainly through digital channels’, the lord chief justice has said. The Law Society’s Gazette, reporting on a conference on online courts, said that this could even mean dealing with courts via a mobile phone. ‘Why not?’ the lord chief justice asked. ‘There is no reason why our forms, processes, and perhaps even some hearings should not be optimised for smartphones giving litigants effective access to justice from the palm of their hand.’

Implying that access to justice be defined from the point of view of users, not lawyers, Lord Burnett said: ‘They are likely to want an answer, and quickly. They want certainty. We must change our assumptions.’

Professor Richard Susskind asserted that ‘more people in the world have access to the internet than have access to justice: more than 50%, compared with the OECD’s access to justice figure of 43%’. ‘This defines our challenge,’ he said.

For online courts to work, there ‘needs to be an investment in advice and support to assist people in using the technology’, blogged Steve Hynes of the Legal Action Group. Possession and use of a smartphone does not furnish the user with the necessary knowledge and comprehension skills required to deal with what can be a complex legal issue. Legal aid and other cuts have devastated the availability of legal advice services for claimants and so they are less likely to be able to obtain independent assistance.

Reverence and respect
It was ‘surely unacceptable’ that judges are not held to account in the same way as other members of the profession, wrote John Hyde in the Gazette. They deserved ‘the reverence and respect’ that comes with office-holders who have worked so hard to reach their position, Hyde reckoned. He continued: ‘But they do not deserve to avoid scrutiny. When solicitors’ misdeeds are being laid bare in excruciating details, the least we can expect is to know why judges are being sanctioned. Right now it feels like the establishment is bowing to the bench just like any other court visitor.’

In its annual report published this week  the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office said 498 complaints were made about poor behaviour by office-holders – up 17% on the previous year. The JCIO removed 11 magistrates, two judges, four tribunal judges and two coroners in 2017/18. In a further 18 cases an office-holder was reprimanded, warned or given formal advice.

Guardian appeal
The Law Centres Network are amongst the charities who will benefit from this year’s Guardian and Observer’s appeal. ‘This year we are supporting five charities that helped bring the Windrush injustices to light,’ editor Katharine Viner says. ‘The charities help people who have fallen foul of the hostile immigration system. They provide legal assistance, advocacy and in some cases material and emotional support. Legal aid cuts mean they depend on public and philanthropic donations. They not only save lives and livelihoods; they help uphold our human and democratic rights.’


About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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