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Culture of the Legal system

Comment 4th July 2010

I am not a lawyer.   My proposal arises from a personal experience watching a case in which I was not an involved party.   There was a dispute about an allegedly unpaid bill of £2,000.  After TWO full days legal wrangling the poorer of the sides withdrew due to lack of funds.   The red-robed, bewigged haggling was totally out of proportion.    There was even, for example, extended discussions as to whether a first or second class stamp had been used to post the payment.   And the real nub of the case never emerged from beneath the legal choreography.  Much of the time was spent "proving" points that were NOT In DISPUTE.

So, there should be two changes:

1.  The law should require that a statement of "agreed facts" be prepared and presented before a case comes to court.  No time need then be spent on going through them.

2.  Far more cases, criminal and legal, should go before an extended form of the small claims courts and be dealt with by informed laymen/women.  In other words, move away from the confrontational system for all but the most serious cases.   The Arbitration/Adjudicator  approach should be much extended.  

Why does this matter?


To reduce associated costs.  As a country we must eliminate waste.  The coalition government is on about reducing "bureaucracy"  but it is obvious that a good deal of this is there to anticipate possible exposure to the civil or criminal system.  The length of delays on motorways after an accident occurs because of the level of evidence the police must assemble in preparation for any subsequent court case.   I think Germany has a much slicker system.

The coalition government makes a lot of play about "police bureaucracy" but I think much of this is because the police must anticipate the pernickety nature of the legal system.   If a lawyer can get motorists off speeding charges on "technicalities" (e.g. mis-spelling the name of the street where the event took place) then the police must spend disproportinate amount of time and money preparing for such eventualities.

Similarly, local authorities and the NHS are forced to go to extreme lengths to document every step and create an audit trail in case someone takes them to court.   Where documentation is clinically necessary – fine, but not else.

I hear that in some parts of the country there are plans to close smaller local courts and their business moved to central courts – this is not the direction I favour.

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