The lord chief justice today called for an immediate redesign of civil justice and questioned the future role of lawyers in the system.
Speaking before the justice committee of the House of Commons this morning, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (pictured) said the judiciary and executive had to ‘start again’ to take account of modern advances in the way they operate the court system.
The judge was critical of court fees during his annual report published last month, suggesting civil justice is now ‘unaffordable to most’. Lord Thomas reiterated that his opposition to the fees remains, but the effects can be offset by modernisation of courts and the onset of virtual hearings.
‘We are very optimistic the online court can provide a solution,’ he said. ‘Many of us feel the current Civil Procedure Rules are far too complicated and designed for lawyers. [Civil justice] has to be redesigned so people can do it themselves or with some legal assistance.’
Lord Thomas suggested that the change, likely to be heralded when Lord Justice Briggs publishes his final report on civil justice in July, would require primary legislation.
Pressed on whether those without access to the internet would be excluded from justice, the lord chief justice said there must be allowance in the budget to look after such individuals.
He insisted that case officers, assigned to disputes to attempt to find a settlement, would bring parties together and ‘don’t necessarily have to be a lawyer’ – although judges would always be required to determine cases that cannot be resolved.
‘There is an awful lot done by judges at the moment which need not be done,’ he added. ‘There is a huge amount of case management and getting things ready for presenting to the judge that can be done without lawyers.’
Lord Thomas stated that fixed fees - recently proposed by Lord Justice Jackson to be applied to all cases worth up to £250,000 - ‘ought to expand’, although he said the increase should come incrementally rather than being imposed overnight.
He also expressed disappointment at the delays in the Court of Appeal, which he said were ‘not acceptable’.