Access to justice

Back in the early years of the 19th century the English legal system had reached crisis. The court edifice was positively creaking. There were three common law courts, the Court of Exchequer, of King’s Bench and the Court of Common Pleas. In addition, if your case concerned equity, i.e. it was about trusts or you wanted an equitable remedy, such as an injunction, then you had to start separate proceedings in the Court of Chancery. This was all very expensive. However, getting through any reform was very difficult. Around the country were various local courts which supposedly provided access to justice for the ordinary man. However, these were inefficient and in some cases the clerks that ran them were plain corrupt. Attempts to change this landscape and introduce a universal civil court were met with strong objections from those who had a lot to loose. Such courts would, they said, dilute the majesty of the common law. The truth of course was that if they worked they would take business from the Common Law courts and from the barristers who had exclusive rights of audience in those courts.

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Supporting the local economy

I have long been an advocate of supporting local business where possible. This is often easier to say than to put into practice. We can all be guilty of paying lip service to the idea; browsing in John Lewis or Waterstones and then ordering something on line (Amazon!) to save a few pounds. If as I do you both live and work in a small town, in my case Great Yarmouth, then keeping your business local has a greater importance than if you lived in say London or even Norwich. You don’t need a degree in economics to recognise than towns such as ours struggle in the present economic climate. Not only have we to put up with the general recessionary headwinds, but the drop in the price of oil coupled with the north sea oil and gas resources running down has lead to numbers of off-shore companies both laying-off staff and switching their operations elsewhere, often to Aberdeen. These prospects for a revival look bleak, with the cost of oil extraction now being more than it costs to extract shale oil in the US.

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Legal Aid and litigants in person

I realised quite recently that I had not done any “networking” or marketing for a while. All lawyers need to be seen from time to time to remind friends, colleagues and clients that they still exist. This coincided with an invitation to a business lunch with our local MP and Chris Grayling. Mr. Grayling is well known to lawyers, as he is both Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor. In a sudden rush of blood to the head I booked myself onto the lunch and immediately prepared a number of questions for Mr. Grayling around access to justice, something any Lord Chancellor, traditionally a largely non-political role, should be fighting to protect and promote. A raft of measure over the last five years have seen huge reductions in legal aid, big increases in court fees and a massive rise in litigants in person in the courts. Those that financially qualify for either the limited legal aid which exists or for a reduction in the court fees payable have such a rigid means assessment process to go through that many give up or loose out because they are unable to provide the wads of documents demanded to prove that they qualify.

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