On 25 November, my colleague Terry Renouf posted a short blog that included a link to the Lord Chief Justice’s 2016 annual report. A few days earlier, on 22 November Lord Thomas, the current LCJ, had appeared before the Justice Committee to discuss his annual report with members of the Select Committee.
In the course of his exchanges with MPs, he paid tribute to Lord Justice Briggs for his comprehensive review of the structure of civil courts in England and Wales. Lord Thomas is spearheading taking that forward as one key strand of the overall court modernisation programme. His main goal is that the UK retains a justice system that is just, proportionate and accessible – a system that builds on established strengths and continues to lead and inspire the world. Lord Thomas is focused on ensuring that court management is fit for purpose, that one IT system is used by all courts, and that the On-line Court (a central recommendation of the Briggs review) is fully developed by 2020 to allow access to justice for all. As an illustration of the current IT problems, he noted that seventeen (!) different legacy systems are in use across the Royal Courts of Justice.
Another point worth a mention was that Lord Thomas said that widespread arbitration can cause an impediment to the development of the law – an interesting thought, as fewer cases run to trial. Fewer determinations at trial inevitably means fewer precedents – a point also made by the Law Commission in the context of its review of insurance contract law. The LCJ also surmised that mediation without lawyers attending may appear not to work as frequently as it might because often the parties to mediation need the type of reality check lawyers are able to provide. An interesting point that, as an accredited mediator, I would support.
Putting two and two together and getting the wrong answer is all too easy but it is interesting to note that, unlike in the last five years or so, the publication of LCJ’s report was not immediately followed by his annual press conference. I had wondered if that might have been abandoned because of the attacks on the judiciary from some quarters following the recent Brexit judgment (Miller v Secretary of State for Exiting the EU), in which Lord Thomas himself was involved?
Reassuringly in my view, the Lord Chief Justice was not going to be put off quite so easily and held his annual press conference yesterday, on 30 November. Stephen Ward, Head of News for the Judiciary, made it clear at the outset that the Brexit case was off-limits and Lord Thomas himself closed the press conference by saying: “I am again very sorry I could not deal with the one area I know you are dying to ask me about but it is not politic to do so now.”
Jef Mitchell, Consultant, BLM