The lord chancellor is fully behind the senior judiciary’s determination not to fill gaps on the bench by lowering standards of recruitment, the lord chief justice said today. Hinting at the ongoing debate over judicial salaries and pensions, Lord Burnett of Maldon said: 'On one thing there is agreement - the bar to appointment will not be lowered.'
Lord Burnett was speaking at the inaugural London International Disputes Week, an event aimed at preserving London's position as a legal centre in the face of competition from new commercial courts in EU states and emerging markets. Noting London's strengths, he paid tribute to the reputation of England and Wales' legal profession and the judiciary - stating three times that his judges are incorruptible - as well as that of the UK courts for impartiality. 'There is no home team advantage to UK litigants,' he said.
England and Wales can also claim to be the best placed jurisdiction in the world in getting to grips with technological revolutions such as artificial intelligence and 'smart contracts' enabled by digital encryption. Echoing a speech last week by Sir Geoffrey Vos, chancellor of High Court, Lord Burnett said that a common law system is able to adjudicate on new developments 'without the constraints of operating within a fixed code'.
London will be in 'pole position' in the world of lawtech and smart contracts, he said. Artificial intelligence 'has the potential to transform the delivery of justice. English law does not shy away from innovation but examines it carefully to see what may be gained from it'.
The judiciary and the courts had already demonstrated a willingness to innovate, he said. 'The way we operate our courts is subject to constant review.' Examples included new procedures in the business and property courts. 'The use of technology in our courts is at last gathering pace,' he said, referring to e-filing, the use of predictive analytics in disclosure, video hearings and the 'evolving' online civil claims court.
Acknowledging international competition, however, he said: 'We must all recognise that we are providing a service and that we operate within an international market for legal services. We are far from unique in being able to offer a first-rate service.'
Earlier Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of lobby group London First, warned against complacency over London's place in the global legal market in the current uncertain climate. 'At the very point where our competitors are raising their game, Brexit looks like an unnecessary, self-inflicted cock-up,' she said.