In this alleged age of austerity, the great offices and mighty organs of state must earn their keep. Just as His Grace the Duke of Wellington would be bemused at the sight of the Guards hiring out their mounts to tourists for rides, so in the same way, Lord Eldon would be taken aback, by the vision of civil justice system qua cash cow, rather than something provided for subjects by the sovereign. Of course Lord Eldon didn’t have such an enthusiastic family division clamouring for funds.
The main thrust of the Civil Courts Structure Review is based on the Susskind père et fils vision of the legal future, where lawyers are replaced by IT systems. (Although some of us might welcome the thought of being pensioned off, and retiring like the Emperor Diocletian to grow cabbages in Dacia). It is part of a seismic reform of the courts and tribunals service in England and Wales.
Briggs LJ* is the acceptable, nay the utterly charming side, of this dystopian future. He has been commissioned by the “Lord Chief” (as he calls Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, with shades of le Carré) to advise on one small part of this revolution. The most eye-catching being to subject all claims under £25k to be dealt with on line. As part of his brief, he is travelling the length and breadth of the jurisdiction, listening to what these days are called “Stakeholders”. (no, not steak holders, Squeaky).
Last week, however, Briggs LJ was consulting a mere hop, skip and a jump away from the RCJ, in the marbled halls of magic circle firm, Freshfields on Fleet Street. He was the honoured guest of an elite group of dispute resolution knowledge workers**, known as the Association of Legal Professional Support Lawyers.
Briggs LJ took the assembled shamans through his proposals, but it was clear that he had come not to preach, but to listen. Giving off the air of a kindly, but razor sharp Classics master, the learned judge appeared genuinely delighted that he had found so many people who were prepared to talk endlessly of portals and costs and access.
Briggs LJ’s most rapt listener was, however a black Labrador who sat in the front, with his companion human. It was clear that the learned judge just as taken by Lester – for such was this splendid beast’s name – as Lester had been by Briggs. Disappointingly, Lester’s companion human said she couldn’t claim the dog was named after renowned human rights lawyer, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. But if the human rights movement needed a mascot, Lester would fit the bill.
This “informal consultation process” is a wonderful idea. Take someone really bright, and get them to go around asking questions of people who are interested in what is being consulted on, and then write an essay about it. Of course we don’t always get the result we want, or the result that the essay writer envisaged. You could ask Jackson LJ about how that feels.
Law Mice was lucky enough to chat with a couple of representatives of Dispute Resolution Plc, (or Practical Law, as I was sternly told they had now rebranded). Plc is the BFF of shamans, and knowledge workers everywhere. They write about all areas of the law in a calm, accessible and bang up to date sort of way, so it was nice to put faces to content.
So thanks to them, and to the Freshfields PSL team, for a nice trip away from the wainscot and for an insight into how a country’s justice system develops.
*Much admired by Squeaky for the clarity and confidence of many of his judgments. Squeaky ♥ Curtis v Pulbrooke as all his students will know, not to mention the lengthy Lehman’s case on segregation of trust assets, and last year’s cracker Juliet Bellis v Challinor.
** Professional Support Lawyers (“PSLs”) are employed by the larger firms to know lots about lots of things. They spend their time reading stuff so that their colleagues don’t have to. They like nothing better than answering questions about the minutiae of law and procedure. Sometimes, they try and share all the things they know with their comrade fee earners either by writing stuff or telling them stuff, often in that City institution, the lunch time training session.