One of the country’s most senior judges has admitted that problems in courts and tribunals are commonplace due to a lack of money. Sir Ernest Ryder, senior president of tribunals, said the justice system is ‘beset by problems that derive from a lack of funding’ – not just in the modern era but over decades.
After his speech at the Expert Witness Institute annual conference in London, Ryder was asked whether he had read Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken by the blogger ‘Secret Barrister’. The question in particular asked whether he recognised its downbeat description of the state of justice in England and Wales. ‘I would imagine most judges would experience things that there are elements – sometimes significant elements – you would read in that book that happen on a regular basis,’ he said. ‘We are running a system beset by austerity.’
Ryder told delegates it was incumbent on the Expert Witness Institute and others in the justice system to provide strong leadership, without which ‘not only will we fall off a cliff but the quality of justice will have declined’.
He described the consequences of austerity as ‘price rationing’ and said this was ‘unacceptable’, adding that the concept of access to justice was ‘indivisible’.
Ryder’s comment come in the same week as stringent remarks on legal aid funding from Supreme Court justice Lord Wilson, who spoke on Tuesday in a lecture at a Chicago university. The judge said he harboured ‘real concerns’ about the provision of free legal advice and representation and accused UK governments of feeling the need to ‘dismantle much of our precious system of legal aid’.
‘Access to justice is under threat in the UK,’ said Lord Wilson. ‘Our lower courts are now full of litigants who have to represent themselves, often of course very ineptly. In our own court very able advocates still regularly appear. But, particularly when they are asserting human rights against a public authority, they nobly appear pro bono, or for a small fee under the attenuated legal aid scheme; and it constantly offends me that it should be necessary for them to do so.’