The new Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, has now officially been sworn-in. Appearing before the attorney general, solicitor general and senior judiciary at the Royal Courts of Justice, Ms Truss, the first female Lord Chancellor, praised England and Wales for having an enviable reputation throughout Europe and the most open and trusted legal system in the world, adding that she would like to see that reputation more widely acknowledged at home.
However, for all her praise of the current judicial system, she still appears to be as keen as her predecessor, former Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, to continue with the ‘reform agenda’ and to fundamentally alter the structures and procedures of the existing courts and tribunals service. In her inaugural speech before senior judiciary, the Lord Chancellor said she was a ‘great supporter’ of reform and modernisation through the courts and tribunals system, adding ‘that urgent task will be high on my agenda in the months ahead, as I know it is for senior members of the judiciary.’
However, her optimistic portrait of the current legal system and her calls for the need for reform did not necessarily strike the right sort of chords with some members of the judiciary. Many are calling for more urgency in the reform process and demanding that action be taken sooner rather than later. They claim that the four-year reform period for change is too long and too slow; action needs to be taken now.
Senior presiding judge, Lord Justice Fulford, has warned that the UK’s courts and tribunals system risks slipping into terminal decline unless urgent action is immediately. Speaking in his July reform update to the judiciary, Lord Fulford said:
“Put starkly, the imperative for reform increases by the day. Our system is crumbling under the weight of outdated and inefficient paper-based processes, along with many years of significant underinvestment in IT and our estate.”
“Without root-and- branch change, we risk sliding into a state of rapid, managed decline. There is, I believe, a strong consensus for change and we have the means to fund it. We must grasp the opportunity to make the changes necessary to bring the system into the 21st century.”
However, that consensus is not necessarily universal. Many legal practitioners across the country are warning that action taken too swiftly and with too little thought to the consequences could cause terminal damage to the legal system. They are warning that with the latest round of court closures, poor or inadequate court facilities and limited IT and internet, there is a real possibility that access to justice may be damaged irrevocably.
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