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Courts should be more welcoming, says Minister for Justice

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March 28, 2024

Courts should be less intimidating and confusing for non-lawyers, the Minister for Justice and Civil Liberties has claimed.

Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes, who was only appointed in December , told The Guardian that he was keen to make courtrooms less “alien” and more “user-friendly” for anyone entering one for the first time. He wanted to ensure they were not “disadvantaged because they are lay people”.

The Minister said:

“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.”

In the absence of any available new funding, Hughes hopes to recruit magistrates or volunteers to help welcome people when they arrive for an appearance in court.

The Minister  also plans to discuss family court issues directly with Family Division President Sir James Munby, the paper reports.

“I’m hopeful by the end of this parliament we will have a feeling that [courtrooms] are very much accessible to people as well as for justice. Making the courts … user-friendly is something we can deliver without any extra public [spending].”

The Liberal Democrat MP also addressed mediation as a government-endorsed alternative to court proceedings for family disputes.

“Mediation works. We are committed to making sure that more people make use of it rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of going to court.”

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  1. Andrew says:

    It sounds good in theory. But if the l-i-p is welcomed by a volunteer s/he is sure to try to get legal advice and help which the volunteer is not qualified to give. And if s/he sees the same volunteer being equally nice to the l-i-p opponent confusion may result.

    As for using JPs – most of us are taking as many days off our work as we can for sitting, we have not got more time to spare for standing around our local County Courts being nice to people. (Obviously we can’t do it – even a Minister may be able to see this – at the courts where we sit).

    Now, accurate cause lists in a locked glass-fronted notice board, put up before the building opens – that would be useful to us all; litigants, lawyers, the lot.

  2. David Mortimer says:

    Hi Marilyn,

    I hope Simon Hughes uses the opportunity which he has been given by being appointed as the Minister for Justice and Civil Liberties to end the misery of the family courts which is something Theresa May pledged to do on 17th October 2004 when she was the Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for the Family.

    Theresa May also said “We Conservatives recognise what the experts and common sense have always told us: that the best parent is both parents. It is time for a family court system that protects children and respects parents” but the family court system still does not operate in the best interests of the public or children & that must be changed.

    The Conservatives it seems have completely forgotten everything theu know about what is wrong with the family court system & haven’t changed any of them since they have been in office.

    Simon Hughes is going to discuss family court issues directly with Family Division President Sir James Munby I hope he knows there is a very simple truth associated with contact disputes. It is that if both parties to the dispute are content with the amount of contact that they have with the child, there is no longer any dispute. Contact disputes are about one thing and one thing only: the amount of time that each parent believes that he or she should have with the child. That simple truth has somehow got submerged during the drafting of the Children & Families Bill.

    What we needed in the Bill & what everyone thought we were going to get when the Green Paper was published’ was measures designed to facilitate contact; measures that would put right the deficiencies of court settlements under the current system, deficiencies which the Government acknowledged in their Green Paper.

    What we have in the Children & Families Bill are not measures that will facilitate contact, but rather measures that will serve only to defer contact. The so-called contact activities for which the clause provides are not contact; they are things that the court says you have to do before you are allowed contact. That idea, with great respect to the Minister, will do nothing to help sort out the one and only question at issue between two parents in this situation: how much time should each of them be allowed to have with the child?

    The Children & Families Bill completely misses this crucial point.

    Best regards Dave

  3. JamesB says:

    “I don’t come to your place of work and tell you how to do your job!”

    That’s how welcome I was in court by Circuit court Judge when trying to see my children more. Didn’t think much of the place and was very nasty indeed going up against a barrister, doesn’t matter if you are in the right or not they don’t like laymen or LIPs in court.

  4. Stitchedup says:

    I believe there’s a lot that can and should be done to make courts more friendly to ligs. For a start, courts need to listen to people and understand what they are saying or trying to say, and make a genuine attempt to understand the real motives for courses of action, not just apply a pre-fabricated template to decision making and reasoning. e.g. from my own experience, I didn’t contest an occupation order but contested the attached non-mol. The reason I didn’t contest the occupation order was simply because I had enough shit from my ex and was tired of litigation the associated costs. I contested the attached non-mol; however, as I didn’t contest the occupation order this was seen as an admission of guilt, even though I had admitted nothing. So, the non-mol was granted; there was no genuine attempt to understand my motives or reasoning for not contesting the occupation order.

  5. Tristan says:

    Courts would be more welcoming if applicant fathers knew they stood a 50% chance of gaining residency orders. As matters stand, the incoming fear, and a very realistic one, is that they are likely to get screwed.

    If courts continue to dish out 95% of residency awards to mothers, then the head of family division ought to spell out the judicial policy behind this.

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