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October 11, 2014

a truly radical English Judge?

Lord Justice Ryder is an unusual judge, having started his working life as an investment banker and then, presumably, seen the light.  He has worked on justice reform for many years behind the scenes, first as a Circuit judge, then as a Appeal Court judge.  His speciality is family and he has worked, in between sitting and managing, at reforming the family justice system.  I met him when I was seconded to the then department for Children, Schools and Families to investigate delays in childcare proceedings.  He was bright and able to think strategically about the courts and the judiciary.  He could see how the judiciary played its part in delays.  Definitely a reforming judge.  So it was great to see him break out of the courtroom again on Monday 6th October at a seminar organised by the High Sheriff of Northamptonshire, Anne Burnett.  Lord Justice Ryder chaired a seminar on youth justice during the day and gave a speech in the evening on “making a difference”.  I hope the speech will be published because it was very thoughtful and quite radical.  He said the justice system was in a state of great flux – partly because budgets had been tightened so much.  He said one of the pressures for change was the number of litigants in person (people appearing in court without a lawyer).  It was definitely causing delay, because few litigants in person prepare their cases as lawyers do.  He is concerned that people go to court when they have almost no likelihood of winning.  Litigants in person need better advice before they get there, and judges need to become more inquisitorial – to “descend into the arena and direct the orchestra”.  But the courts are also proposing employing judicial officers to help LiPs before they get into court.  They will help LiPs prepare their case, to save expensive court and judicial time.  This is quite a radical idea and may be controversial with lawyers.  If the public purse has money to pay judicial officers, why won’t it pay for lawyers themselves?