Plans to create ‘lawyerless’ courts will not improve access to justice, the Bar Council has warned in response to plans for civil claims of up to £25,000 to go through an online court.
Lord Justice Briggs’s proposals would mark a “fundamental” shift in our judicial processes, according to the Bar Council, but the professional body claims that failures in our justice system and court structures are in fact down to lack of investment and resources.
Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, Chairman of the Bar Council said: “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.
“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.
“Plans that involve the widespread dismantling of existing court structures would need rigorous testing and evaluation as well as careful piloting. 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.”
The Bar Council’s response also raises a number of other concerns including:
- Using Case Officers in the Online Court (OC) with a quasi-judicial role would mark a shift to a career judiciary which risks reducing the status and independence of the judiciary,
- Not everyone who would need to use the OC would have access to an email address, scanner, PC and landline, which would be pre-requisites of this approach for obtaining justice, and
- An online court with no legal costs implications could well be attractive to those seeking to make fraudulent claims.