A major survey by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) of 1,000 individuals, plus 1,000 businesses, has found that a majority want to keep the online court system going, despite the end of the worst of the pandemic in the UK.
The results were:
- three-quarters of the British public are content with online hearings and other remote access arrangements. Just 27% of the public object to such innovations.
- 64% of businesses support remote access to the civil courts…..although, that means that up to 36%, a notable minority, of companies are not that happy with remote court hearings.
The survey – which was backed by Mischon de Reya – also said that these results were ‘a warning that politicians and legal authorities need to do much more to develop a long-term and coherent approach towards modernising the courts system’.
They said that although there is a court modernisation programme due to be completed by 2023, it ‘is expected to deliver some efficiencies at best, rather than transforming the justice system into one fit for the 21st Century’.
They added that: ‘Ambitious modernisation is needed because the civil and criminal courts are failing to serve the majority of the population well, as they are often unable to make use of the civil courts, the SMF said. That contributes to a ‘civil justice gap’. At the same time, the criminal courts are not delivering justice efficiently and effectively for the victims of crime, the wrongly accused or society. Together these failings in the civil and criminal courts are undermining faith in the rule of law.’
They also stressed that the ‘civil justice gap’ – those who are unable to access civil justice to resolve their civil legal problems – means that only 6% of civil cases get legal advice. Those on low- and middle- incomes and SMEs find it more difficult to get resolution through the civil courts.
Closing the gap could save individuals and families up to £2bn a year, and between £40bn-£100bn a year for SMEs, the report estimates.
Richard Hyde, SMF Senior Researcher, said: ‘There is no doubt that the justice system has been letting people down for a long time. Those on middle- and low-incomes in particular find it very difficult to access to justice through the civil courts. While the criminal courts are failing to deal with their caseloads efficiently and effectively. The result of these failings is large amounts of personal, financial and societal detriment and declining faith in the civil and criminal justice system.
‘The Government’s court modernisation programme is due to end in 2023, but that’s when the real work – to put in-place world leading courts – should begin. There is a need for greater ambition and thought in the next phase of reforms – evidence-based changes and learning lessons from other successful examples of reform and digital access should be a key priority. The UK’s economic prosperity, security and social cohesion is dependent on vastly improved civil and criminal courts.’
And, Nick West, Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Mishcon de Reya, concluded: ‘While previous attempts at modernising the legal system have at times made incremental changes, it is clear that a significant shift is needed now. The best way to achieve this is to bring together everyone who has an interest in the future of English law and a commitment to effective and long-lasting reform.’