Major new legal study reveals decline in access to justice and falling public trust
Posted on: 21st November 2014
83% of lawyers believe that the justice system is not accessible to all, with 61% fearing there is little trust in the fairness of the judicial process
A major report into the current state of the justice system in England and Wales has shown that senior lawyers are deeply concerned about access to justice and public trust in the legal system, with innovation desperately needed to improve the status quo.
Hodge Jones & Allen(HJA) appointed Ipsos MORI to interview over 500 of the most senior and experienced legal professionals in the country, exploring the impact of major changes to the profession in recent years, including the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) and the Jackson reforms of the civil justice system.
The Innovation in Law Report found that:
- 83% of respondents believe that the justice system is not accessible to all members of the public
- 81% said the situation is worse than five years ago
- 87% stated that wealth is a more important factor in access to justice than in the past
- 79% felt that changes to court fees were making it harder for people to bring cases to court
The report also found mixed views on the Jackson Reforms:
- 47% felt that the Jackson Reforms in particular benefitted big business and government rather than ordinary people
- 46% felt that recent reforms were likely to contribute to a substantial increase in the use of private arbitrators rather than courts
The decline in access to justice has had a major impact on public perceptions of the legal system with 61% of legal professionals agreeing that there is little trust in the fairness of the judicial process and 88% agreeing that the court process is intimidating to the general public.
One partner interviewed on the current state of access to justice reflected: “I see the rule of law slowly becoming eroded as access to courts and tribunals, assisted by competent representation, becomes affordable only to the very poor or the very rich.” Another stated that “The issue of access to justice in light of continued legal aid cuts is a huge problem.”
The report is one of the most comprehensive examinations of the legal profession in many years and seeks to generate discussion around how, given the Government’s cost cutting objectives, the profession can innovate to improve access to justice and the court process, including options for privatising aspects of the system.
HJA aims to stimulate debate with the report, and has started by outlining 19 suggested innovations in response to the Ipsos MORI research, including telephone and online access to a government funded Legal Help Centre, penalties for parties that refuse to engage in settlement discussions in civil cases, an independent audit of the cost of the justice system, an assessment of the value of contracting out aspects of court proceedings to the private sector and removing VAT from legal fees when individuals are privately funding their cases.
Patrick Allen, senior partner at Hodge Jones & Allen says: “This report raises major concerns from across the legal profession over inequality in access to justice and the introduction of a slower and more expensive processing of cases through the court. As a strategy, it is arguably failing its financial objective and more importantly fails the first test of any healthy legal system; the provision of justice to all.
“The research indicates that many legal professionals believe the public are starting to lose trust in the fairness of the justice system and do not have the knowledge they need to represent themselves. Whilst most respondents agree on the need for increased access to legal aid to remedy this, the profession needs to move on and to look at more innovative ways that equality of justice can be delivered.”
Seventy-eight per cent of legal professionals surveyed wanted to see increased access to legal aid but in addition respondents believe that part of the answer lies in education and modernisation of the courts system through the use of technology:
- 71% of professionals questioned believe that an understanding of the law and legal process should be taught in schools
- 50% believe the efficiency of the claims process is worse than five years ago
- 57% support the idea of virtual courts in some cases
- 57% support compulsory electronic communication of all court documentation
Some believe that an inevitable privatisation of aspects of the justice system will deliver faster and cheaper outcomes with 46% of legal professionals agreeing that we are likely to see a substantial increase in the use of private arbitrators instead of going through the court system. Of those with knowledge of the Jackson reforms, 66% would now be willing to recommend to clients that they seek settlement through binding arbitration rather than go through the courts.
Patrick Allen continues: “Although the court system is changing and modernising, the research indicates to me that many lawyers think the pace of change is too slow, particularly with regards to investment in IT. In an environment where legal professionals are being asked to deliver more for less they are being hampered by the courts. It is not surprising therefore that many see private arbitrators and incentives to make out of court settlements as part of the answer.
“Change is needed, whether it is better use of technology through virtual courts or electronic documentation, the contracting out of some aspects of court proceedings to the private sector or the introduction of more fixed penalties for minor criminal cases. There is little incentive for courts to innovate and drive down costs now that fees are met by litigants in the civil courts, so pressure for change will need to come from the profession itself.”
HJA believes innovation is needed both within legal practices and within the judicial process. This report aims to start a debate within practices, across the profession, between legal practitioners and the judiciary, and between the profession and the government. Free copies of the report are available at:
All press enquiries to:
Kerry Jack, Black Letter PR on 020 3567 1208 or 07525 756 599, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Louise Eckersley, Black Letter PR on 07821 998495, email: email@example.com
Notes to editors:
Ipsos MORI conducted research for Hodge Jones and Allen (HJA) in order to explore attitudes towards the future of the legal profession. In total, 508 solicitors and barristers took part in the survey online between 18th June and 16th August 2014. Emails were sent out to 17,187 legal professionals inviting them to take part in the survey, covering those from a range of specialisms within the profession; this included 378 Managing Partners and Heads of Chambers from the largest legal organisations in the country. Quotes in the report are from an open-ended question asked at the end of the survey; ‘Finally we would like you to think about the legal profession as a whole. What do you think are the key two or three challenges for the future of the legal profession?’
Figures from this survey have been rounded up or down to the nearest percentage and therefore they may not in all circumstances add up to 100%
Hodge Jones and Allen
Patrick Allen, senior partner of Hodge Jones and Allen, founded the practice in 1977 with the intention of creating a law firm that served every corner of society and where client service meant excellent care and support. Those are still the principles that guide the firm today. HJA passionately believe that everyone who is subject to the law should have access to the law. The firm’s award-winning expertise in civil liberties, criminal law, medical negligence, housing and personal injury, not to mention its large family law team and knowledge of wealth protection through wills and trusts, makes HJA one of the most pre-eminent law firms in the UK today.
This report came about from an idea generated by a colleague as part of the firm’s Continuous Innovation Programme, which is ensuring that HJA can continue to deliver on its core aim of “using the law to improve people’s lives”. The programme, introduced two years ago, has seen the firm take a bottom-up review of its structure, its management, the type of work it undertakes, the way it recovers fees, the processes it employs and the support fee-earners need.