It’s no secret that the UK’s justice system is collapsing faster than a fraud trial in Cyprus. Covid has prompted a go-slow across the public sector and despite the promotion of alternative dispute resolution schemes, some complex cases do need a legal hearing.
The Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) has called on the Chancellor to use his Spending Review later this month to increase funding for the justice system and to champion reforms that improve access to justice for consumers. According to Matthew Maxwell Scott, ACSO executive director, failure to re-fund the justice system after years of spending cuts has eroded faith in the justice system and left thousands of people at risk of never achieving justice.
In a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Maxwell Scott pointed out:
· Since 2010/11, the MoJ’s budget had been cut by around 40 per cent in real terms. Even with small upward revisions since, by 2019/20 the total MoJ budget was still around 25 per cent lower in real terms than a decade before (source: IFS).
· Spending per person fell in real terms by 29 per cent between 2010 and 2019. Restoring spending to 2010 levels per person requires an extra £2.48bn on the justice system as well as an extra £2.33bn for the police, equating to an extra 22 pence per person, per day. (source: Bar Council)
· The average time taken for a small claim to go to trial is now 49.2 weeks. This is 12.6 weeks longer than in 2019 and 7.5 weeks longer than in 2020. Meanwhile the wait for multi/fast-track claims to go to trial is now 71.1 weeks, an increase of 12 weeks on 2019 and 9.7 weeks than for the same quarter in 2020. (source: MoJ)
· In addition, by February 2021 the number of outstanding cases in the Employment Tribunal had increased by 45 per cent compared to pre-COVID levels, with the average waiting time for a hearing increasing from 34 weeks in December 2019 to 49 weeks in December 2020. (source: MoJ)
Maxwell Scott said: “Although the MoJ was blindsided by the pandemic, the plain truth is that a decade of cuts has left our world-renowned justice system on its knees. Justice delayed is justice denied; these lengthy waits are painful and consumers deserve better.”
Maxwell Scott said that while lack of government funding was the root cause of court backlogs, and a disintegrating infrastructure, he also urged the Chancellor to support the
introduction of tech-led dispute resolution, including mediation and online and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to cut court backlogs and deliver justice efficiently.
He said: “New technologies and platforms can deliver justice quickly and make savings for defendant insurers and their customers. Claimants will receive proper representation and do not therefore face under-compensation, unnecessary delay or added distress and inconvenience. This is an initiative the whole of the claims sector can get behind, because it benefits us all.”
Maxwell Scott pointed to various pilot ADR schemes which have already resulted in hundreds of claims being resolved, often in just a few days.
“Claimants received the same damages but much sooner, insurers benefiting from reduced operational costs, which may be passed onto consumers via lower premiums, and fewer claims entering the courts system when they might otherwise have done, which in some instances could be on up to four separate occasions.”
He concluded: “HM Treasury must accept that current levels of spending on justice remain too low in real terms for the MoJ to operate effectively. Secondly, that accelerating reform programmes to encourage new ways to resolve disputes and ease backlogs in the courts system will make a difference.”
“We call on the whole claims sector to support our request for increased funding for the justice system.”
Copies of the letter are available on the ACSO website: https://acso.org.uk/news/202109/spending-review-2021-more-money-needed-ensure-access-justice-new-ways-working-too