There are two types of justice in England and Wales. At the top end, large commercial clients enjoy a ‘Rolls-Royce’ service from the Rolls Building courts. Government gushingly sings the praises of the contribution of the legal services market to the UK economy. Cash is being pumped into new projects such as the new ‘flagship’ court to be set up in the City to tackle cybercrime and fraud.
Then there is the everyday justice experienced by ordinary folk. Not so much a Rolls-Royce, more of a clapped-out charabanc that may or may not turn up – and if it does, will almost certainly be running late. Instead of opening new courts, government is closing them – or, in the case of Lambeth County Court last month, confusingly half-closing them, so that lawyers find themselves turning up to the wrong place.
Civil litigators at the Gazette’s latest roundtable are only too aware of this growing chasm. The money saved by court closures is intended to fund badly needed digitisation of the county court system. But progress on that front is slow. HMCTS is taking its time and listening to practitioners, which must be a good thing. But if, as expected, we are to see a significant extension of fixed recoverable costs in 2019, the technological advances must be up and running by then. Without them, those everyday clients will struggle to find a law firm to represent them.