Simon Hughes, the new justice minister, has made it clear that UK courts should be more user friendly.
In an interview with the Guardian, Hughes explained that people should feel that they “own” the courts, and that more needs to be done to make sure that people feel comfortable and informed when attending court.
Hughes also discussed the proposed plans to introduce compulsory mediation in divorce disputes. The children and families bill, due to come into force in the spring, will require separating couples to first consider using mediation before they can take their dispute into a courtroom. It is hoped that this will save a huge amount of money.
According to the MoJ, the average cost of resolving a relationship breakdown through mediation is £500 as opposed to £4,000 if the couple go to court. Mediation, Hughes accepted, would not be appropriate in cases involving domestic violence.
There has been widespread criticism of these proposed reforms form family lawyers, who say that mediation is not always appropriate in these types of cases due to the strength of feeling between the parties. It is feared by some that the new proposals may make divorces more stressful, as well as wasting time and money.
Hughes admitted that there was not additional funding available for reforms, and that he envisaged recruiting volunteers to become the friendly faces of the court. Leaflets in an array of different languages available at court was one way he hoped to reduce confusion and stress, he said.
“We need to avoid the problem of people going through the court door and ushers and [other officials] not understanding that these people are giving evidence so that they find themselves sitting next to the families of the offender,” he explained. “We have to do that much more professionally.”
“I want our courts to be places where everyone feels they … can get justice. People need to own the courts as places that are on the side of people as well as the justice system.”
“I’m hopeful by the end of this parliament we will have a feeling that [courts] are very much accessible to people as well as for [dispensing ] justice. Making the courts … user-friendly is something we can deliver without any extra public [payment].”