Solicitor General: Our courts and judicial system must be fit for the 21st Century
UK needs a modern, competitive legal system to meet people's needs and to support a strong post Brexit economy says Enid Rowlands, Chair of the SRA Board.
The SRA regulates some 170,000 solicitors and more than 10,000 law firms in England and Wales. Last week, attendees gathered for the launch of the SRA’s paper on access to legal services, titled ‘Improving Access – tackling unmet legal needs’.
Enid Rowlands, the chair of the SRA Board, set out how nine out of 10 people, and small businesses, “do not access the legal help and support that they really need when they need it”.
“There is substantial unmet need, and as a regulator we should be thinking very hard - and are thinking very hard - about what it is that we can do to improve access to legal advice and support when it’s needed,” she said.
There is clearly a role in making sure that information is more easily available, is available in a language that people want to use, and that is understandable. We are doing a lot of work and will be consulting more on that.”
Ms Rowlands cited the work done by the SRA in making sure that the “highest professional standards” are maintained by solicitors, while simultaneously working to reduce the constraints and costs of regulation. This, she argued, could help improve access to legal services by getting rid of unnecessary bureaucracy and reducing financial burdens. The SRA is also seeking to support firms who provide new services and freeing up solicitors to work where they choose.
“It’s really essential that we develop a modern, competitive legal sector to meet people’s needs and support a strong UK post Brexit economy,” she said.
The SRA has also seen firms changing the way they work, providing unbundled services - where clients do some of the work themselves - and carrying out more pro bono cases.
Referencing Brexit she went on to stress that it is important that companies and individuals are able to access support at times of change: "Indeed we want to make sure that the extraordinarily high reputation of English and Welsh law is maintained through that process.”
During his address, the Solicitor General Robert Buckland championed the work done by organisations such as the Society of Asian Lawyers, Association of Women Solicitors and the Black Solicitors Network -all attending the event - in ensuring England and Wales’ legal system is representative of the wider community.
“[Diversity] is not just a ‘nice to have’, it’s something that I think is essential if our legal system is to reflect society which is serves,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about and it’s at times like this that it’s good just to remind ourselves about why we talk so passionately about the importance of equality, and the importance of diversity, whilst emphasising excellence and the need for our profession to embody that in everything it does.”
Mr Buckland, who vowed to continue to work with the SRA and other regulatory bodies over the coming years, also set out the Government’s priorities for the parliament ahead.
“They are straightforward, it is to make sure that our courts and judicial system are fit for the 21st Century in which we live,” he said.
“Which is why modernisation, digitalisation, all these efficiencies aren’t just ends in themselves, they are a real means to deliver a legal system that will serve the public, who rely so much upon it.”
Speaking to PoliticsHome after the speeches, Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said he was “pleased” the issue of access to the legal profession had been raised by the SRA’s chair, Ms Rowlands.
“No doubt the Government will want to pursue some of the technological advances to try and modernise the courts system. But the courts system also needs to be properly funded, the legal system needs to be properly funded and people need access to justice,” he said.
“It’s all very well having court rooms with the latest and most fancy computer systems in operation, but if people through not having legal aid or through employment tribunal fees or through other reasons not being able to afford to access those courts when they need to in the first place… then that poses a real problem too."