So, I’d better start with a big disclaimer. The thoughts below are my own personal musings and have not been run past anyone else. They are therefore not necessarily the views of Bearwood Chapel. However, as I mentioned in my last article, one of the ways in which we can work for justice is to try to imagine and describe what a just and fair society might look like.
So, here goes!
There’s been a long running political and economic debate about what the role of the market is, where the state steps in and what goods and services (if any) should be free at the point of delivery -although some support supplementing this with private options. What we don’t really think, talk about or debate is how legal assistance is provided.
Yet, earlier I mentioned that even in a democratic society where there isn’t widespread corruption, for some, there are significant barriers to justice.
This happens in two ways.
First of all, justice is expensive. It costs money to get legal representation. Legal aid will help in some but not all cases. However, it does not feel like a level playing field when those who have wealth can seek out their preferred lawyers who can attract large fees.
Secondly, justice is remote. It can take a long time for a case to be heard. If a case goes through appeal it can take months, years even before it reaches resolution. Legal justice takes place in imposing courtrooms in city centres away from communities.
So, what if:
1. There was a level playing field so that all solicitors and barristers were available to represent their clients free at the point of delivery. I would not be able to gain an unfair advantage through my ability to pay. It would not matter whether I was poor or rich, one individual or a large multi-national corporation, I would have the same access to representation.
2. The role of magistrates was devolved into local communities and people were chosen from within a neighbourhood to hear disputes, maybe via a parish council?
3. What if an initial hearing was guaranteed within a week of an issue being lodged. The magistrate/ court would be responsible for determining if enough evidence existed to make an immediate decision or more time and evidence was required.
How would those things affect the society we live in and our attitude to the Law?