How The UK Courts Could Become More Fair

Mid October saw the widely-reported news that the Supreme Court backed a Northern Ireland-based bakery in refusing to bake a gay marriage cake. While denounced by pro-LGBT groups, the decision was hailed elsewhere for its commitment to free speech, enshrined as a limited right under Article 10 of the HRA. With the Supreme Court no stranger to progressive decisions, it marks an interesting turn towards the UK courts becoming firm, but fair.

Despite this, many British people find the courts unfair – only 37% trust it, according to The Guardian. While headline cases move towards a liberal future in terms of decisions, it’s worth considering what more can be done. Looking further afield provides great evidence of measured legal decision-making across a range of legal fields.

Reforming legal settlement

Settlement, both in and out of court, is a pillar of the legal system. Litigation should be a final step and the actual court room can create unnecessary and at times traumatic situations. UK courts and the wider legal system of mediation are faltering, however; despite the process being found to be conducive to positive mutual outcomes, the Law Gazette found that mediation take-up was ‘disappointingly slow and small’. Conversely, foreign law systems excel in this area. As notable settlements including those concerning investor Erik Gordon in the USA and athlete Chris Gayle in Australia, have shown, settlement can be pursued to find positive and mutually agreeable outcomes to litigation.

Cooling the barristers

In many foreign judicial systems, and especially the US, filming is allowed – if not expected. This is a clear difference to the United Kingdom, where court artists continue to find themselves remembering an image of figures in court before sketching once outside of the court. While filming in court is a contentious area, as recent proceedings concerning activists have shown, there is an argument that their introduction would make courts more fair. This is a view echoed by Victims’ Commissioner Baroness Newlove, who suggested that cameras would temper barrister attitudes. Being on film could prompt barristers to stick to the book in terms of conduct and improve consistency with judges.

Action being taken

The good news is that the government have recognised issues that are prevalent and are addressing them. One issue, concerning the relative expertise of judges, has been addressed by The Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill, which the government says will make it easier for judges to find cases pertaining to their specialism, rather than being constrained by the circuit or tribunal.

The British legal system is the envy of many countries, but its problems remain deep-rooted. Improving fairness for both parties is crucial, and looking abroad can bring inspiration. With government interest, the system can be overhauled for the better.

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