Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘pro bono work

Transforming the Justice system – case studies

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It is quite hard for those outside the justice system to know exactly what is going on with the overall transformation programme. But a source of really interesting material is Tribunals Journal published 3 times a year by the Judicial College. (I declare an interest – I have just been appointed to its editorial Board.)

The latest edition, published in December 2017, contains a number of interesting case studies on developments which are relevant to the transformation programme. The following items are particularly worth noting.

Lorna Findlay, who is an Employment Judge, was an early volunteer to receive training to entitle her to sit as a judge in the county court. ) One of the transformation programme’s central goals is the creation of ‘one judiciary’ whereby judges can be deployed to different areas of work.. The author describes the basic training she received and the shadowing she undertook before she started sitting as a District Judge on civil matters. Her overall impression was that the essential features of the judicial role were the same whether in the ET or in the county court.

She felt that her experience in the ET gave her more confidence in handling litigants in person, who appear more often in the tribunal, than some of her civil judicial colleagues. At the same time, she thought that procedural rules in the county court, which enable judges to give only brief summaries of key facts and grounds for decision, should be brought into the Employment Tribunal rules – ET decisions are currently notoriously and unnecessarily long in her view.

Sian Davies, another ET judge based in Wales, described a pioneering initiative to assist litigants in person. The aim was to find a way for the ET itself to be able to signpost litigants in person to sources of assistance that might help them frame and argue their cases. The obvious challenge is that the ET must not appear to be taking sides. But with the reduction in the availability of legal aid, the tribunal argued that new ways of trying to assist should be developed. One outcome has been the creation of an ET Litigants in Person Scheme, in which volunteers – acting pro bono – offer advice and assistance to parties before the tribunal. These are based in the London Central ET and Cardiff.

Meleri Tudur writes about the use of registrars and now tribunal case workers to undertake some of the more routine paperwork that historically had been undertaken by the judiciary. In some cases this had led to a significant reduction in the amount of time taken by judges on what is known as ‘box work’.

To me, these are all examples of initiatives designed to make the existing courts and tribunals service more responsive to the needs of users. Tribunals Journal should be essential reading, not just for the tribunal judiciary, but for those involved in the reform of the justice system.

The Winter 2017 number of Tribunals Journal can be found at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/tribunals-journal-winter-2017.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Litigation (crowd) funding – a new approach

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Litigation funding is normally associated with high value commercial cases. Litigation funders provide the financial resources for high cost litigation and commercial arbitration on the basis that they will receive a return on their investment – often a percentage of damages recovered or agreed. Litigation funders will not take on personal injury cases or consumer cases because the damages involved are (usually) too low

But an article in the Sunday Times 21 June 2015 caught my attention. Under the headline Man, 87, sues care home for right to kiss his wife it was reported that an 87 year old man was seeking to establish a right to kiss his wife, who lives in a care home suffering from dementia.

At the end of the article it was stated that the man’s lawyers were working pro bono but also they were seeking to raise £4000 for legal fees through a new company called CrowdJustice.

Launched on 25 May 2015, CrowdJustice seeks to raise modest sums – up to £5000 – to help defray costs in cases which the company thinks have some social importance, such as the treatment of the elderly and vulnerable or have a wider community impact.

An example of the latter is the case being brought by a Colombian man, Gilberto Torres, who is  fighting a legal case before the UK High Court in order to end the impunity of British oil companies’ actions abroad. He claims that

Me and my family have had our lives destroyed because I tried to take a stand when I saw human rights and environmental abuses being committed to protect the interests of BP in Colombia, where I worked as an engineer. I was kidnapped and tortured in retribution, and now we’ve been forced to leave Colombia and live in exile. Help us get our lives back, and help expose in court the human rights violations committed by fossil fuel companies abroad.

At the moment, CrowdJustice is taking cases on an invitation-only basis. But it inviting those who think they may have a case that affects their community to get in touch.

The website states:

When someone has a court case that they feel passionate about and that affects others in their community, they can set up a Case Page on CrowdJustice that explains what the case is about and why they need help funding it. That person – the Case Owner – sets a deadline and funding target of the amount they need to raise to help offset the costs of taking their case forward. It’s up to you to support them, help spread the word and make pledges to help them meet the funding target.

Only when the funding target is met do the pledges get collected and backers’ cards get charged. If the funding target is not met, the pledges made do not get collected.

When a case is successfully funded, a Case Owner will keep in touch and update backers about the latest developments in a case.

Unlike litigation funding, those who invest in these community cases will not usually see any return on their investment (unless they have pledged more than £1000, where they may receive a percentage of the sum pledged back). Any surplus  at the end of a case is paid to the Access to Justice Foundation.

This is an innovative approach to the challenge of enabling access to justice in cases of potential social importance. For more details go to https://www.crowdjustice.co.uk/

For more details on the very different work of commercial litigation funders go to the home page of the Association of Litigation Funders of England and Wales at http://associationoflitigationfunders.com/.
This site gives links to the member companies who are offering litigation funding in commercial cases.