Conservative proposals to bring in the Big Society are very much at the forefront of our plans for reform of legal aid and our court service, which I have been working on since the General Election.
Of course, the Ministry of Justice budgets are subject to the same scrutiny and cost reduction demands that other non ring fenced government budgets are being subjected to.
However, this presents us with a unique opportunity to readdress our administration of Justice – not only to take out waste from the system, but also to realign the relationship and expectation between the individual and the state in the context of civil, criminal and family law in a way which is tune with our Conservative values.
So, in the areas of civil and family law we want to see individuals taking more responsibility for resolving matters themselves. This means that the court system is used as a last rather than first resort, so that public funding can focus help on the most vulnerable. Too often the adversarial nature of court proceedings enflames the complex nature of disputes which would be more efficiently and cost effectively dealt with through mediation.
Likewise, we are consulting on the closure of inefficient courts. We see this as an opportunity to exploit the use of technology to speed up justice, reduce bureaucracy and to streamline and modernise frontline court services – not least for the benefit for the victims and witnesses.
The history of law reform under the last Labour government was one of constant prevarication, external reviews, reactive measures and uncoordinated piecemeal policy. In contrast, we are committed to reviewing justice in a coordinated and timely fashion. With this in mind we are simultaneously reviewing court re-organisation, the provision of legal aid, civil law reform, family law and sentencing and rehabilitation policies.
Given that we are proposing to announce consultations on all of these areas before the year end, it would be fair to say that the Justice team is going to be kept very busy over the coming months!