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18 April 2018

What could the future hold for our legal system?

Brexit and technology - both have the power to completely change our lives. But how will they affect our judicial system? Simon Carroll, senior associate in the dispute resolution practice, provides his thoughts.

Brexit – a concept that strikes fear into some and opportunity for others. Since the referendum, international investors, global and domestic companies and individuals alike have voiced concerns over what the UK’s legal landscape - which has incorporated a vast amount of European law since the mid-1970s - will look like post-Brexit.

The lack of detail in Theresa May's 'Great Repeal Bill' in 2017 did little to address those worries, however, unease may well be unfounded considering that:

  • The laws currently on our books should not be automatically affected by the referendum result, or any repeal act - whether made by an English parliament or ‘passported’ in from Brussels. The law currently in existence is unlikely to change, unless expressly repealed by an English parliament post-Brexit. Given the huge undertaking which would be involved and the likely lack of funding available to do it, in the short term at least, that probably means zero change for now, and possibly for years to come.
  • Even if Brussels-made laws were to be erased from the statute books overnight, the common law - which are judge made laws developed from precedent over time, and the foundation of the English justice system - would not be affected. The central tenet of the English judicial system would therefore remain. 
  • English courts do, in fact, share many similarities with other EU courts on how they approach litigation. This will not change post-Brexit. It is likely that judges in different jurisdictions, who remain apolitical, will continue to collaborate and cooperate with each other, and exchange ideas and information about their justice systems.  

Although there may well be some specific changes to the law, this is unlikely to happen in the short term. England and Wales are - and will continue to be - excellent centres for justice.

Advancing technology

With the advancement of smartphone technology, we are used to having most things at our fingertips. Will that include justice too someday? 

The judicial system is already looking into how technology can be used to its, and the public’s, advantage particularly as courts are under-resourced and where litigation costs can be prohibitive to those who wish to access to justice.

Indeed, technology is already being used within the system. For example, witnesses can be cross-examined in court by video link and lawyers are increasingly being instructed to make filings and communicate online. 

It is not unfeasible that courts will begin to investigate online dispute resolution in a serious way over the next few years, although whilst some simple dispute resolution schemes do exist and function well (eBay and Amazon are two examples) we are probably some way from 'tele-litigation' becoming the norm. Of course, if these options were eventually considered suitable platforms for ‘everyday’ disputes such as parking adjudications, it is quite conceivable that costs would be saved, improving access to justice for the lay person. 

Such online alternatives, however, may not be an option for everyone. Consideration would need to be given to those who don’t have online access and, more seriously, whether those in need of their day in court could ever truly get it from a virtual platform. There are many questions that need to be addressed before online courts become a reality. However, the paradigm is certainly starting to shift to reflect the technological pervasion of our lives.

If you’d like to get in touch with Simon Carroll about a dispute, he can be contacted on 01753 889995 or email simon.carroll@bpcollins.co.uk

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Email: enquiries@bpcollins.co.uk

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