Law Society publishes proposals to reform civil justice
The Law Society of England and Wales has published a Green Paper – 21st Century Justice Project
One of the proposals being put forward could save the justice system £72 million over the course of the next parliament, according to independent analysis.
The 21st Century Justice Project, launched in March this year, focuses on improving access to justice for individuals on low-incomes and small businesses. An Advisory Group of leading voices in civil justice, chaired by Deputy Vice President Richard Atkinson*, was established to provide critical feedback on its work.
The Green Paper outlines suggestions for a set of practical, affordable and incremental reforms that a new government could implement to improve access to justice for individuals on low incomes and small businesses and realise wider benefits to the economy and society. These include:
- A ‘one-stop shop’ online diagnostic tool to support individuals and small businesses identify the most appropriate dispute resolution processes for their legal problems. Independent analysis published alongside the Green Paper shows this could save £72m in real discounted direct costs over a 5-year period – split between costs to claimants, defendants and the court.
- Reforms to strengthen out-of-court dispute resolution processes for individuals and businesses.
- A blueprint for ensuring digital justice portals work effectively for both professionals and lay users.
- Options to help make legal services more affordable such as flexible payments and wider promotion of legal expenses insurance.
- Changes to the way civil legal aid is delivered to help it reach more people, including steps to reform the Legal Aid Agency.
President of the Law Society of England and Wales, Lubna Shuja said: “This project started under my Presidency and I have championed it throughout my term. The current justice system is not working as it should and we need to look for other ways to make it better.
“Access to justice for everyone, no matter what their means or background, is a fundamental part of a fair and just society. The aim of the project has been to lead the debate and identify ways to improve the justice system, in such a way that it will serve all now and far into the future.
“The proposals we have put forward have drawn on the expertise of our Council and Committee members, external stakeholders and those who use the justice system. I look forward to seeing how the project progresses and finds solutions to make the system fit for the future.”
Incoming Law Society President Nick Emmerson said: “A properly functioning civil justice system is vital to economic growth and a fair society. It’s how businesses make sure they get paid on time and how people assert their rights.
“Yet the current system is not fit for future purpose. As the membership body representing more than 160,000 practicing solicitors in England and Wales it is vital that the Law Society is leading the debate about how to create a modern, efficient civil justice system.
“The extent of collaboration undertaken in developing this Green Paper, underpinned by some important new research, shows that we are looking to the future, putting forward proposals that reflect the economic and market reality, harness advances in technology and adapt to meet the changing needs of legal services consumers.
“I hope that members, wider stakeholders and political parties engage in these ideas and help us to continue to develop them further.”
Paul Wilson, Policy Director of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said: “We welcome the Law Society’s 21st Century Justice project, and the publication of the Green Paper. In particular, we’re glad to see the proposals take small businesses’ needs into account, many of whom do not have in-house lawyers.
“The online diagnostic tool, expanded ombudsman schemes and a greater role for the Small Business Commissioner, as outlined in the proposals, could help small firms resolve disputes in a more cost-effective manner.”
David Abbott, Legal Services Consumer Panel Member, said: “The Legal Services Consumer Panel welcomes the Law Society’s Green Paper and endorses the ideas for tackling unmet legal needs set out in the paper.
“The current cost of living crisis, worsening advice deserts, and the lack of a strategic approach is having a devastating impact on consumers and citizens. We recognise that there is no single solution to tackling these needs, we are therefore pleased to have contributed to the pragmatic and multi-layered solutions in the Green Paper.”
Sir Ernest Ryder, Master of Pembroke College, Oxford and former Senior President of Tribunals and Lord Justice of Appeal, said: “The Law Society’s work on this Green Paper has been inclusive and challenging.
“The result is an impressive, imaginative and forward looking set of proposals that could enhance access to civil justice by the use of different and developing technologies and dispute resolution methods. I strongly recommend that those responsible for policy and funding give the proposals their serious consideration.”
The Law Society is calling on its membership and wider stakeholders to read the Green Paper and respond to a set of questions on which it is seeking feedback over a three-month consultation period ending in early January 2024