Training sessions have been recently conducted for family lawyers. In the course of these a hint was dropped as to future plans. Now all the cutbacks in courts and staff are starting to make sense, because within five years the whole landscape may have changed.
Divorce could be obtained merely by signing an application – no grounds any more, but payment of a modest fee, rights to property and so on preserved.
Hearings would no longer take place in court, but on Skype - judge in one place, client, lawyer and witnesses in another. No doubt the same could be done for magistrates and defendants.
Would pressure be applied to restrict jury trials – will district judges gradually replace magistrates and everything possible be dealt with by fixed penalties?
For litigants in person, what about booths set up like the computer cafés of a little while ago? Someone qualified in each one to steer the litigant along a computerised trail without appearing in court, the judge at the other end.
Thus we would no longer require court buildings. Judges could gather in clusters at agreed centres in modest buildings with minimal staff. Among other obvious problems would be the disadvantage of not having a live body there to assess – a judge’s stock-in-trade.
Many of the older ones are looking forward to retirement, hoping to avoid this brave new world.
It would be more clinical, more economical, more impersonal – but does not that simply refect the way the way the world is going?
John Greenwood, retired family lawyer and recorder, Chippenham, Wiltshire