On 23 June 2015, Justice Minister Michael Gove addressed the Legatum Institute with an outline of proposals for reform of the justice system, including a review of the court estate, the introduction of new technology solutions and a call for more pro bono services from lawyers.
Jo Edwards, chair of leading family law organisation Resolution, responds:
'We welcome any move that improves the experience of people going through a break-up when they come into contact with the courts. We’re also pleased there’s an acknowledgement that the court system is not working as it should all of the time and that civil justice is beset by delays and inefficiencies, which reflects what our members have said to us about their clients’ experience. Cuts to legal aid have left many people with little or no access to justice, and many domestic abuse victims and other vulnerable people struggle to get the legal help they need to face the courts.The full speech is available here.
We agree that justice should not be the sole preserve of the wealthy. I hope this statement signals a change of direction from the new government, as removing legal aid has exacerbated the ‘justice gap’ in this country significantly over the past few years. Pro bono legal services are plugging many gaps at the moment, but expecting the legal profession to deliver free services as a matter of course, as Mr Gove has suggested, is unsustainable as a long term solution.
While the introduction of telephone and video hearings and online dispute resolution could potentially alleviate some of the issues in the family courts, we’d also sound a note of caution when talking about the use of technology in civil justice. The most recent experience of a Government online legal aid administration system that’s been beset by delays and the need for improvements suggests that any online solutions would need to be very carefully thought out, implemented and properly resourced. People feel the impact of family court proceedings for the rest of their lives – their matters deserve proper attention and consideration.'