The new Justice Minister, Simon Hughes, has this week commented that one of his priorities is to make courts more welcoming and less ‘alien’ to those entering them for the first occasion. He also commented that more separating couples should also be encouraged to cooperate with mediation rather than going straight to court.
In an interview with the Guardian, Hughes, the former deputy Lib Dem party leader who became a Justice Minister just before Christmas, said one of his priorities in office would be to make courts less forbidding and “alien” to those who enter them for the first time. He did not want anyone to feel “disadvantaged” because they are not legally qualified, particularly at coroners’ courts, he said, where bereaved families and those giving evidence can feel “at sea”.
“We need to avoid the problem of people going through the court door and ushers and [other officials] not understanding that these people are giving evidence so that they find themselves sitting next to the families of the offender,” he explained. “We have to do that much more professionally.
“I want our courts to be places where everyone feels they … can get justice. People need to own the courts as places that are on the side of people as well as the justice system.”
Hughes had to acknowledge, however, that no additional funding is available for his proposals. He hopes to recruit volunteers and Magistrates to present a more warm and friendly face at the entrances to courts which are presently dominated by metal detectors, security staff and notice boards. More leaflets in appropriate languages could also be introduced.
Hughes has held talks with the chief coroner, Judge Peter Thornton QC, and will discuss the issue with the president of the family division, Sir James Munby, imminently.
“I’m hopeful by the end of this parliament we will have a feeling that [courts] are very much accessible to people as well as for [dispensing] justice. Making the courts … user-friendly is something we can deliver without any extra public [payment].”