Saturday, 21 June 2014

Computerising the Lord Chief Justice

Court 4 Royal Courts of Justice published by the Daily Star
On Thursday evening (19 June 2014) I attended a lecture in Court 4 of the Royal Courts of Justice - an impressive court that is the home of the lecturer, the Right Honourable the Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd a modestly sized white haired Welsh man of considerable power and influence in the Judicial world.
The lecture was organised by the Solicitors Association of Higher Rights Advocates (SAHCA). Its members are those inferior beings who have higher rights of audience in our courts not being barristers. It was slightly surprising that the judge did not touch at all on our role in the grand scheme of things and much to the discomfort of an adjacent attendee practising criminal law, he did not go outside of the civil domain - despite the fact that the court room boasted a dock with lovely Gothic bars. To be fair only a small proportion of the audience were solicitor advocates as there were a lot of judges and legal journalists too so maybe there are better reports elsewhere.

In introducing the speaker, we were told that advocates in Swiss Cantonal courts cannot speak but only sit in the court and listen to the Judges debate the merits of the case based on the advocates' oral submissions. In Switzerland  it is considered necessary that such debate should be in public. I wish the  European Patent Office would take that on board. It would save a lot of wasted time in corridors and we might learn how to improve those submissions.

The judge addressed three issues: computerisation of the courts, disclosure and the cost of litigation.
He was delighted with the IT investment to be made and was disappointed by the lack of publicity given to such a large spend in the order of hundred (s) of millions by the Ministry of Justice (though you might think that their PR people wouldn't agree while the legal aid cuts are attracting so much attention) even so it was reported here and here and the press release is here. Rather ominously the judge associated this with simplification of the rules and getting rid of specialist rules - oops not good news for our beloved and surely essential Part 63. I fear the IT analysts may have thought that the rules were how they were going to computerise (his word) the process. I was worried. Could we start simple and just have a database of claims brought and documents filed. It would be a useful and rewarding start and such open justice could well of itself reduce the claims brought. In any event we hope that someone who is well computer and litigation literate will be overseeing the process and reviewing how the other side of the bench uses IT.

We were also told that disclosure and costs had been problems from the time the court was built. He highlighted a period when a litigant had to deposit a £5 fee if he wanted discovery, refundable only if it was found useful. With all the be-suited QCs in the room I did not hear any proposed solutions to the costs problems.

We then retired to the Painted Room for wine and canap├ęs. The latter never made it and the Judiciary kept to themselves, though I observed  Joshua Rozenberg in deep conversation with our speaker so perhaps we will hear more in Law in Action at a later date.

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