Problems With The UK Justice System and Solution: As a State made of several separate jurisdictions, the United Kingdom does not have a single unified Legal system. In United Kingdom, there are three distinct and self-contained Legal jurisdictions in England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland respectively. Each Jurisdiction has its own Legal system, Laws, Court, Lawyers, and Judges.
However, Laws which apply in one jurisdiction, particularly Laws derived from Acts of parliament and Statutory instruments may equally apply in other jurisdictions. Furthermore, while Courts in each aforementioned jurisdiction can decide cases differently, the final appeal of all decision lies to the United Kingdom Supreme Court; which is the highest Court in the land over all Criminal and Civil cases in England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
Structure of the United Kingdom Justice System
The United Kingdom has two basic Justice Systems, namely: Criminal and Civil Justice System.
The Civil Justice System aims to solve disputes between individuals or organization dealing with the private right of an individual or involving area of Law such as Tort, Contract, Company Law, Intellectual property Law, Media and Communication, Revenue Law, and Family Law.
The Criminal justice system on the other hand, constitutes of various government agencies and institutions such as Courts, Police, Crown prosecution service, and the U.K prison system whose common aim is preventing crimes, prosecuting and punishing offenders.
The way of punishing offenders in Criminal cases or resolving disputes in civil cases is through the instrumentality of the Court system. In United Kingdom, the structure of the Court system is as follows:
SUPREME COURT: The final Court of appeal for all criminal and civil cases in the three different jurisdictions in United Kingdom.
COURT OF APPEAL: Receives appeal from the Crown court in criminal cases and appeal from the High court, Tribunals and certain County courts in civil cases.
HIGH COURT: The High court consists of three major divisions: The Chancery division, The Family division, and the Queen’s Bench division. Decisions of the High court may be appealed to the Court of Appeal.
CROWN COURT AND COUNTY COURTS: The Crown Court is for Criminal cases, while the County Court is for civil cases. The County court deals with majority of civil litigation subject to the nature of a claim. Whereas, the Crown Court deals with indictable criminal cases, cases for sentencing, and appeals from the Magistrate’s courts.
MAGISTRATE’S COURTS AND TRIBUNALS: Magistrate’s courts deal with the trial of summary offences, committals to the Crown court, and simple civil cases such as family proceedings, license of betting, liquor, et cetera. Tribunals on the flip side handles civil cases, making decisions and hearing appeals on matters including: Asylum, immigration, criminal injuries compensation, social security, education, employment, child support pension, tax, amongst others. Decisions of the tribunals can be appealed to the appropriate division of the High court.
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Problems of the UK Justice System
a. Access to Justice: Access to Justice basically focuses on improving people’s chances of achieving substantive justice by first gaining access to the justice system before they can even have a chance of achieving justice. According to Francioni, access to justice is the ability to bring a matter before the court for adjudication, and this is the major problem of the judicial system in the United Kingdom.
Access to justice in U.K is hindered by barriers which may be material, subjective, sociological, psychological, but most significantly by objective barriers which include: Cost, delay, and complexity in the U.K judicial system.
The cost of litigation which is unpredictable, excessive, and disproportionate is too expensive for the poor and middle income citizens to afford, thereby precluding them from getting access to justice. Furthermore, the delay in Court processes occasioned by the complexity of laws and procedures in U.K may see a case last for years thereby aggravating the cost of Legal representation, making it too expensive for an average citizen who could initially afford legal representation to continue in that case, hence limiting their access to Justice.
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b. Funding: Funding is another major problem in the U.K Judicial system, as the U.K justice system has been seriously under-resourced and spending cuts inflicted over the past few years.
As a matter of fact, the Ministry of Justice in U.K has faced the largest budget cuts of any Government department in recent time, forcing the closure of 295 court facilities across England and Wales. According to James Mucholland, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association in England and Wales, “Funding cuts in the Judiciary is punishing more victims than criminals.” He further added that only 7% of the offences recorded by the police result in prosecution as the police do not have the resources to properly investigate and prosecute.
c. Complexity: Laws in U.K are too complex, thereby impeding access to justice. The complexity in the U.K Justice system can be attributed to four major factors:
(1) The sheer size and number of rules that renders the rules inaccessible to those not familiar with them and complicated to those familiar with them.
(2) The use of jargon, over-elaborated style of language, and too many variations in Law.
(3) The sectoral approach of providing separate rules for special categories of business which was often complicated by the need to make changes in procedures to accommodate each new class of business which resulted into more elaboration, complexity, and make compliance with rules difficult.
(4) Complex sentence structure, length, number of words used that are an attempt to comprehensively cover every eventuality and give every word a definite meaning.
Complexity in the laws and procedural rules in U.K often result in lengthy trials which consequently increase the cost of trials, prolong litigation, expand the range of potential of the matters in dispute between the parties, decrease the effectiveness of procedural rules, and lead to substantive injustice to an unrepresented litigant.
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d. Deserting Legal Aid: The major response by the Judiciary to the problem of Access to Justice in U.K was the establishment of publicly funded legal aid schemes founded on providing free legal assistance and representation to citizens who lack the resources to engage the services of a lawyer to solve their legal issues. However, the introduction of the Legal aid, sentencing and prosecution of offenders Act 2012 has resulted in deserting Legal aid in U.K and further limiting access to justice.
LASPO was a reform aimed at reducing cost of the justice system in U.K and this significantly led to the removal of legal aid in scope of most cases involving housing, welfare, debt, employment, immigration, family, family and medical negligence. According to Richard Miller, the Head of Legal aid at the Law society of England and Wales “Since LASPO nothing is covered by Legal aid unless it s specifically listed in the act.” He further added “The system is now very constrained, that service that is left very fragmented and it can’t really work towards a holistic solution for the individual.”
Thus, the introduction of LASPO has led to a deserting Legal Aid in U.K. The reduced funding and flatlined fees paid to lawyers doing Legal Aid work has also contributed as Lawyers especially young lawyers are no longer venturing into Legal aid, thereby resulting in high demand for Legal aid and a corresponding low supply, thus meting injustice to citizens unable to afford the services of their own lawyer.
Solutions to the problems of the UK Justice system
The following are the possible solutions to the problems of the United Kingdom Justice system:
a. Promotion of access to justice through better quality of Legislation. Quality of legislation deals with the quality in substance of a legislation and the form which is linked to accessibility of the legislation. As stated earlier, complexity hinders access to justice. However, complexity may be avoided through better quality of legislation wherein effective legislation is drafted in clear, precise, and plain language.
Since unnecessary complexity in Legislation and procedure of litigation is the source of high cost, delay, disempowerment, and substantial injustice especially for the unrepresented litigants in U.K, the drafters of legislations in U.K should improve the quality of legislation by drafting good laws in a language and style intelligible to everyone, thus resulting in greater access to justice.
b. Reformation of the Legal aid to improve and guarantee free legal representation of indigent and average citizens in the United Kingdom
c. The Government should increase funding allocation to the Judiciary, as underfunding of the judiciary risks the miscarriage of justice we currently witness in the United Kingdom today.
d. Efforts should be made to improve and modernize Legal facilities, as well as digitalize some court processes in order to foster efficiency and effectiveness in the administration of justice.
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In conclusion, as Chief Justice Sir Ian Bumett said “There must be sufficient resources to enable the courts and tribunals work to full capacity, otherwise backlogs of cases will be unsustainable and there will be miscarriage of justice.’
I therefore implore the Government to properly invest in the U.K Judicial System, increase the funding of the Judiciary, and implement other aforementioned solutions in order to reform the Justice System and improve the standard of Justice Delivery in the United Kingdom.