In his retirement speech at the Royal Courts of Justice, outgoing President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby suggested that members of the public should be asked if they want to go to a physical court building or simply talk to the judge via Skype “…from their kitchen…”.
Sir James Munby went on to state that “…anyone who thinks we currently have a network of courts which enables proper access to justice is deluding themselves…”, following the announcement earlier that week from HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) that it is closing a further seven courts around the country. Munby said a more ‘holistic view’ of how users should interact with the court service should be taken. Munby went on to state the view that if court use is low, the judge could sit in local council offices instead of requiring HMCTS to manage court buildings and permanent infrastructure: “The old-fashioned idea we have to have courts on ground which is owned by the state. We need to be much more flexible, think about using office accommodation, other facilities.”
Sir James’ comments came hot on the heels of a report earlier this month from the Public Accounts Committee, which raised serious misgivings regarding the £1.2bn upgrade project conducted by HMCTS. The committee’s report stated the project was ‘hugely ambitious’, involving digitising paper-based services, moving cases online, introducing virtual hearings, closing courts and centralising customer services. However, there appeared to be ‘little confidence’ held by the committee that HMCTS can actually deliver the pledges to have the project completed by 2022. Even if those lofty ambitions were to be met, the result may still be to undermine access to justice and simply add further pressure on other public services already at breaking point.
Asked about the impact of litigants in person in the family justice system, Sir James Munby said the consequences showed ‘a problem with us, not them’. He described court processes, rules and forms as ‘woefully inadequate’ for the lay-user. Expanding further, Sir James stated, “In practical terms, when litigants in such cases had solicitors, solicitors would manage the client’s expectations and explain what the client could or could not reasonably expect in terms of the court process. They are now coming to court with no idea at all. The fundamental problem is with us.”
Serving Bedford and the surrounding villages, together with our office in central London, the solicitors at Hunter and Uro Solicitors can help you with any family law matter, including divorce, separation, financial matters and orders relating to your children. If you would like to speak to one of our solicitors to discuss your case, contact us on 01234 889777 or 0207 177 9777, or alternatively contact us to arrange a Skype conversation if more convenient!