Tag Archives: Justice

New Dispute Resolution Model and Online Help System Proposed

Online Help

A report from human rights group Justice, entitled Delivering Justice in an Age of Austerity, has proposed a new model for dispute resolution. The model is designed to deliver better, more equal access to justice in a more cost-effective way than the current system.

The proposed process would see the handling of civil claims supported by an integrated information service encompassing both the internet and a telephone helpline.

Registrars would form an integral part of the model, managing cases proactively. A registrar would also be trained to have in-depth knowledge of specific areas, in order to provide specialist help with disputes of those kinds. These registrars would have to hold recognised legal qualifications, and would have the power to refer cases to a judge, strike out statements, or to undertake either mediation or early neutral evaluation.

In many ways, the recommendations made by Justice for the proposed new dispute resolution model in many ways line up with previous recommendations made by the Civil Justice Council in February. However, Justice put forward the possibility of a wider remit for a dispute resolution process using this model compared to the Civil Justice Council. The report suggested that this kind of system could be used at the first instance across tribunals as well as civil courts.

In their report, Justice expressed the opinion that a model of this sort could ultimately go on to deliver cost savings over the longer term. It would also provide a fairer and more equal system for those claimants who lack access to professional legal advice, particularly following the ever-controversial cuts to the legal aid budget. Indeed, the report was produced in response to legal aid cuts as well as with cuts to the budget of the HM Courts & Tribunals Service, which have left many individuals without access to professional legal advice and assistance and therefore struggling to properly enforce their rights.

The integrated online and telephone advice service, in particular, is pushed by the report as a way to provide accessible and professional legal advice across the board in a way that is cost-effective for the public purse. According to the report, it would take two years to develop the online service following the agreement of sufficient funding.

Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society, said that he thought the proposals represented an “interesting development” in the debate surrounding the future of legal advice. However, he also said that the proposed technological solution was not a substitute for actual legal representation.

Caplen said: “Quality representation, particularly when one side is represented by a lawyer, is essential. Our 2015 election manifesto emphasises our call for the next government to ensure that every individual has effective access to justice.”

Ministry of Justice Will Proceed With Changes to Criminal Legal Aid

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced that it will continue with plans to reform the criminal legal aid system. Next summer will see further fee reductions of up to 8.75%,and two-tier legal aid contracts are also to be implemented.

The MoJ also announced that the proposed number of tender contracts will be raised from 525 to 527. The tender process started today and is set to continue for two months, with bidders set to be notified of the MoJ’s decision in June of next year. This information as contained in the MoJ’s response to the consultation titled Transforming Legal Aid.

Like previous reforms to the legal aid system, the upcoming changes to criminal legal aid have not proved entirely popular among professionals within the industry. For example Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society, said that solicitors have been “extremely disappointed” by the MoJ’s decision to proceed. Caplen also questioned the government’s opinion that criminal legal aid work would, in the future under the reformed system, continue to remain sustainable.

Two other groups, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, have said that they are looking into the possibility of mounting a new legal challenge with the intention of halting the plans. A previous challenge by these groups led the high court to decide that criminal legal aid reforms had been introduced unlawfully, and it was this which led to the Transforming Legal Aid consultation.

The consultation placed the reports carried out in February by KPMG and Otterburn Legal Consulting Ltd under particular scrutiny. It looked at the assumptions used by the firms in deciding how many duty provider contracts to make available.

Based on the responses received by the consultation, the Ministry of Justice decided that no action was necessary beyond the slight increase in the number of contracts. Respondents, it said, had not provided new evidence which required any further amendments.

Despite the concerns of solicitors and professional bodies, the government continues to defend its new model. It provided a summary stating that firms would be able to confidently put resources into efforts at restructuring “in the knowledge they would be in receipt of larger and more certain volumes.”

The government’s summary went on to claim that “This contracting approach also gives the government the assurance it needs that those accused of a crime will have access to a lawyer by maintaining a sustainable legal aid service.”