A green paper on early legal support will help the public get to grips with online courts, justice secretary Liz Truss has said.
Ms Truss told a meeting of the House of Lords constitution committee this morning that online courts would mean “fewer lawyers” were needed to help people navigate their way through a “cumbersome and complex” system.
This would enable more resources to be spent on legal support, public legal education and “areas like representation”.
Ms Truss went on: “I’m not saying there will be lots more money for legal support, but we can spend the current budget better by providing people with early legal help.
“What we don’t want is to do legal aid according to the system we had before. We’re designing a new system, and we want to create a new legal support mechanism around that system.
“One of the things that I think will be particularly helpful is that with more ability to do things online, we will see more civil disputes being taken forward and more people being able to resolve disputes that they haven’t hitherto been able to because the system is so complicated.
“I think a simpler system will see more people able to resolve disputes, and that is a good thing.
“Having a system that people can easily access online will improve access to justice.”
Ms Truss defended LASPO, saying that “the legal aid changes that were made needed to be made, in my view, and I remember speaking the debate at the time”.
However, she said the government’s review of LASPO would start “very shortly”, with an announcement next month and the results presented to the justice select committee.
Ms Truss said she was concerned by the issue of litigants in person and said a lot more could be done with “online triage” to enable them to get a better service.
She said there would be another green paper on family justice, where “things were not being done early enough” and there were “big opportunities for us to intervene earlier in families to help protect children better”.
“Our redesigned system will cut out a lot of money that is being wasted helping people navigate a very complicated process and instead will make sure lawyers are used to best effect, giving expert legal advice and representation.
“That I hope will help attract more people into the profession.”
Ms Truss said it was very important that family and criminal had “sustainable incomes”.
On the personal injury discount rate, Ms Truss said there were “issues” with the way the rate is set, on an ‘ad hoc’ basis. She said the Ministry of Justice would be consulting soon on reform of the process, and whether the rate should be set by an independent body as part of a regular review process.
Earlier in the session, Ms Truss gave absolutely no ground at all in the debate over the Daily Mail ‘Enemies of the People’ front page headline, following the High Court ruling on Brexit.
Ms Truss said she saw her role as Lord Chancellor as “custodian of the judicial system”, whether in terms of making sure it was “properly funded” or whether the issue was recruitment of judges.
She said it was “dangerous for a government minister to say what is an acceptable headline and what isn’t” and “condemning what the press writes” was the wrong approach.
However, she said she wanted the Lord Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court to speak out more on issues not related to judgments.
On judicial recruitment, Ms Truss pinned her hopes on attracting more solicitors and academics to the High Court.
She described the challenge of recruiting more judges as “like turning round an oil tanker”, and warned that it would not be achieved in a year.