The Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, the chair of the independent Civil Justice Council and Head of Civil Justice, has welcomed the Civil Justice Council’s rapid review of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the civil justice system, particularly the swift expansion of the use of remote hearings. The review, conducted with the support of the Legal Education Foundation, launched on 1 May 2020 and concluded on 15 May 2020. It was particularly aimed at court users whose hearings took place between 1 May and 7 May 2020.
In response to the report Sir Terence Etherton said:
“I am immensely grateful to the members of the working group for producing this report and especially to Dr Natalie Byrom of the Legal Education Foundation, who undertook the lead on the review. The report is the result of an astonishing effort by all involved to produce such an informative report in a very short period of time, there were well over 1000 responses to the review. The report provides a valuable snapshot of the effect of the pandemic on civil court users relatively soon after the pandemic began. I hope it will form a useful basis for further research and review in due course.
“The report makes a number of recommendations which we will consider carefully. In particular responding to concerns expressed by a number of consultees about the consequences of the current stay on housing possession claims ending. I have established a cross-sector working group, which is being chaired by Mr Justice Knowles, the chair of the Civil Justice Council’s Access to Justice Sub Committee, to help address these concerns.”
Dr Natalie Byrom, Director of Research at the Legal Education Foundation, who led the research and drafted the report for the Civil Justice Council, said:
“I am very grateful to everyone who contributed. We had to work extremely quickly at a time when everyone is under huge pressure.
“The volume of responses reflects a wide recognition of the importance of understanding the impact of COVID-19 on the justice system and supporting the judiciary and court service in their efforts to ensure that hearings are able to take place. The report recommends immediate steps that can be taken to build on existing practice and ensure that remote hearings support access to justice.
“The Civil Justice Council’s commitment to use the report as basis for informing further research and review is very welcome. The report highlights systemic deficiencies in the information that is currently available on the operation of the civil justice system. The findings underscore the vital need to invest in robust systems for capturing data in order to review the operation of the civil justice system and build the evidence base for effective practice. Improving the data that is collected is vital to make the voices of litigants in person and lay users of the justice system heard.”