Fresh ideas for 21st century justice

Everyone deserves a fair, timely solution to their legal problems – and we know small businesses and people on low incomes can struggle to get the support they need.

We’ve come up with some fresh ideas for practical, affordable changes to our civil justice system that will enhance access to justice and could save the system £72 million over a five-year period.

To get here, we’ve put our heads together with experts in the field, members of the public, small business representatives and consumer groups to think about ways to redesign how people get justice. 

Why are we looking ahead?

An effective civil justice system helps people to resolve disputes and realise their rights. But right now, it’s just not fit for purpose.

More and more people and small businesses cannot afford legal advice and cannot resolve their legal issues, and this can lead to loss of earnings, poor mental or physical health, unemployment, and homelessness – all of which rob people of their potential, increase pressure on public services and hold back growth.

At the same time, many small and medium-sized law firms are facing new challenges:

  • rapid digitalisation and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI)
  • cost-of-living crisis
  • changing consumer behaviours and expectations

Solicitors play a key role helping people understand and access their rights, and we want the profession to lead this conversation.

Redesigning civil justice

In March 2023, we kicked off a three-year project to look at the problems facing justice in England and Wales and explore practical changes to make sure the system works effectively, now and in the future.

In year one, we’ve focused on four key areas:

  • improving the alternative / non-court dispute resolution landscape
  • making legal services more affordable
  • civil legal aid reforms
  • making online justice portals work better for end-users

What we’ve learnt

We’ve chatted to people and small businesses to find out what they want and need from our civil justice system.

Read more about our workshop with legal services consumers (PDF 2.3 MB)

Many people struggle to know whether to go ahead with claims, and want to know:

  • Do I have a case and is it worth it?
  • What are my legal rights?
  • Can I trust this information?

People are looking for:

  • a trusted source of accessible, jargon-free information
  • support and compassion
  • face-to-face access points
  • confidentiality

Our ideas so far

We’ve looked across the whole system, thinking about the political, economic and market reality, advances in technology and the changing needs of consumers.

We’ve also talked to:

  • working groups of volunteers from our policy committees
  • dispute resolution provider groups
  • justice non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
  • advice providers
  • law tech
  • small business representatives
  • consumer groups
  • academics

Some ideas we think might help:

  • creating a single, trusted entry point, to give people a clear set of options to resolve disputes
  • strengthening improving the existing non-court/alternative dispute resolution landscape
  • reforming civil legal aid to help more people get early advice and reduce unmet legal need
  • other proposals – on unbundling, insurance and costs

“I want these proposals to spark debate and generate energy and purpose about what we –  as a profession and as a country –  can do to fix our civil justice system. Solicitors are the cornerstone of that system. By leading the debate, we are helping to ensure the sustainability of our profession today, and into the future.”

Richard Atkinson, chair of the 21st Century Justice Advisory Group

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