On 4 June 2021, the Lord Chancellor spoke at the Law Society, where he reflected on the justice system’s response to the pandemic and outlined the Ministry of Justice’s post-pandemic recovery plans for the justice system.

As with many other areas, the pandemic has catapulted changes to the justice system, with the need for remote hearings to be made available during lockdown. Last year many hearing were adjourned whilst the courts struggled to deal with the impact of the pandemic. Now, most interim hearing are held remotely. Whilst it is usually good to see the white’s of people’s eyes, there are benefits to remote hearings, not least that you have no travel and waiting times, but for me, the best bit is about being able to conduct a remote hearing in your slippers. That, and the hearings are usually on time which means you don’t have to wait around and it has increased the court’s capacity. As a result of the backlog of claims Nightingale Courts have been set up to help cope with demand.

The pandemic has cemented the need for remote hearings to be made available. The Ministry of Justice wants the effective use of audio and video technology to remain an integral part of the justice system.

The Lord Chancellor has also made it clear that the nature of dispute resolution should be redefined, and courts should be used as a last resort. Parties should look beyond litigation and at faster and simpler alternatives, such as mediation and conciliation. Alternatives to dispute resolution should be made mainstream and should be seen as integral to the justice system. This is particularly important as the average time taken from claims being issued to hearing remain significantly impacted by the pandemic.

On 3 June 2021, the Ministry of Justice published its Civil Justice Statistics Quarterly figures for the period January to March 2021. The statistics show the volume and overall timeliness of civil and judicial review cases dealt with by the courts over that period, which remain significantly below pre-pandemic levels, but the number of claims which are defended continues to increase. All the more reason for parties to consider alternatives to the courts for resolving their disputes.

Sharon Auton and Laura-Pauline Adcock-Jones are trained mediators and both are advocates of alternatives forms of seeking to resolve disputes where possible. They can be contacted on 01206 574431 or by e-mail at info@tsplegal.com