Lawyerless courts are not the answer
Lord Justice Briggs has just delivered his long-awaited report on monetary claims worth less than £25,000.
Quite rightly, he feels that the public is being short-changed
by solicitors and barristers in relation to such relatively low-value claims and he feels there should be some form of online portal that will allow the public to do the job themselves, without intimidating court hearings, free of lawyers, and, best of all, free of legal costs. Nothing wrong with any of that.But in a sense don't we have that choice anyway? If I decide to sue my neighbour for damages because his tree knocked down my wall, I certainly do not need to use a lawyer. I can pop into a county court, pick up the forms, complete them, and set the civil justice system in motion.
Briggs seems keen on sidelining lawyers because as
a breed we are expensive, but sometimes the public will litigate despite the constraints of cost. Very often, clients want their day in court and are prepared to pay handsomely for that privilege.Briggs also seems to think that technology may solve some of the problems of costs and delay.
That may well be the case, although judging by the current IT in my local county courts,
I do not think that Briggs' ideas are likely to be implemented
I have embraced IT, knowing the huge advantages that come with it, including speed, added efficiency, confidentiality, and keeping up to date, but IT does not solve every problem.
Take the example of the estate agency profession. Years ago
I predicted that most estate agents would leave the high streets in the same way that most travel agents have shut down their shops, as we all book holidays online. But estate agents have battled on.
Why is this? Estate agents are not cheap. But are they convenient? Do people trust them?
Certainly something has allowed their way of business to continue, and I suspect that this may be the case with lawyers. Most people can conduct their case on their own if they choose to, but sorting out often complex legal issues is the reason lawyers train for seven years: it's what we are good at.
I would also question whether the judge who eventually has to read all the papers submitted online would not value the input of a lawyer. Presenting judges with a short, pithy skeleton argument, a chronology, and a summary of case can save a huge amount of time compared with
a sheaf of 2,000 documents.
If judges in these new lawyerless courts have nothing but huge mounds of papers and often badly worded arguments to rely upon, will they come to the correct decisions and how long will it take them to do that? Judges are an expensive resource, and it is best that they have as much help as possible: we, the taxpayers, fund them.
Finally, how lawyerless will these newfangled courts actually be? Companies and rich defendants will still use their lawyers to put the paperwork together. Justice is a strange beast, but it would certainly be
a tragedy if the results of important cases were decided on the skill of presentation, with the lawyer-drafted arguments on one side and rather short or perhaps much too long submissions on the other.
Justice is much too important to be abandoned on a whim.