Government departments that use the courts system 'have a role' to ensure a fair trial and should contribute to legal aid - Lucy Frazer QC MP
The Justice Minister Lucy Frazer was joined by a panel of experts to discuss how the British justice system can be improved, at a Conservative party conference fringe event hosted by the Society of Conservative Lawyers.
In a wide-ranging discussion about the British justice system, Lucy Frazer QC MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, called on other government departments to contribute their share to fund the justice system.
She said “those who deal in the courts system are often other Government departments which include the police under the auspices of the Home Office, the CPS under the auspices of the Attorney General and DWP in relation to welfare claims.”
“We need to ensure that all of these different departments ensure that when cases come before the courts that involve them, people get justice”, she added.
The Chair of the Bar Council, Andrew Walker QC, said that political support at all levels was needed to protect and enhance the justice system and to uphold the rule of law.
Given the pressure on public spending, Walker pointed out that the safety net offered by the justice system costs far less than other Government departments such as welfare payments paid by the DWP.
He said that justice had to be visible and that “the public must have confidence that the innocent will be acquitted but that the guilty will be convicted.”
Walker suggested that increased legal education could improve public understanding of how the legal system benefits for all citizens.
Andrea Coomber, Director of Justice, agreed and said that it was important to explain the system to everyone outside the sector, so they value it and have confidence in it.
Justice Minister Lucy Frazer QC MP called for greater clarity in the system, so it can be more easily understood.
Christina Blacklaws, President of the Law Society, stressed the importance of early legal advice for families struggling with challenging family matters or housing and debt problems. Such advice helps to reduce the cost and length of resolving legal problems and disputes.
Frazer added that not every case required the same level of legal expertise adding that in many cases the costs were prohibitive. “The costs of going to court might outweigh the amount involved in the case,” she said.
The minister said that speedy justice was already proving successful, citing eBay, where 60 million disputes have already been settled. She said that the MOJ has now set up a civil online dispute resolution service for claims of up to £10,000.
Frazer said the it was important to get the forum right and that, for example, in some family cases mediation would be a better option than using the courts service and that the right people to assess a case might well be the local authority and social services, “with the judiciary very much a last resort.”
In Criminal cases where liberty is at stake though the minister said, “it is right that the only solution is a full trial, with full evidence, with thorough investigation.”
The minister concluded that proactive case management by the judiciary out of court would lead to less wasted time in trials being deferred and make the justice system more efficient for all concerned.
Walker concluded that technology was important for the sector to embrace but the human interaction of advising and supporting a client and hopefully finding a legal resolution to their case was important.
He warned that if the system did not keep up with technology there could be grave consequences, saying “we will be encouraging private dispute resolution in a way that cherry picks the profitable cases, leaving the state to pick up the rest.”
Walker added that the British justice system works well which is clear from the amount of international business coming to our courts and the fact other jurisdictions are trying to mimic the UK justice system.
He praised the “independent, incorruptible and excellent judiciary” but said that the system also relied on “skilled, robust and ethical lawyers in those courts making sure the judges remain independent, incorruptible and fair.”
Lucy Frazer QC MP agreed, stating “one of the many reasons we are at the forefront of international litigation is because of the reputation and integrity of the judiciary” but added “justice provision is excellent, but we can always improve it.”