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Society, Politics & Law
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The court in 10 years' time

Updated Wednesday 22nd October 2008

We asked our panel what we might expect to see if we arrived in the courtroom of 2018.

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Copyright The Open University

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Copyright The Open University

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Mr Justice Calvert Smith: I think what I’d like to do is to say I rather hope that it won’t be much different in ten years to what it is now. I say that because the system has been subjected to enormous change in my career as a lawyer, sometimes I think more change than was necessary or desirable and certainly at a speed which was too fast. The more that law and order has become a political issue the more that there is the temptation for governments to pass a legislation or change procedures and roles without perhaps thinking of the long term consequences, so that I think what I hope is that there won’t be much overall change in the way things work now.

What of course I hope, and I’m reasonably confident it will happen, that the diversity that there now is in the junior end of the profession, both gender diversity and ethnic diversity, will translate itself into the same diversity on the bench. Disappointingly it certainly hasn’t done so yet and it’s a shame that judges like myself in our sixties come from a generation where there weren’t many women at the bar and there were very few people from the minority ethnic population, and so the process has been perhaps slower than it should have been. So to that extent I would welcome a change but so far as the basic structure of the court process concerned, I hope that there won’t be much difference.

Gary Slapper: I think one first and obvious difference would be what the court looks like and what the people in it look like, and I think that would involve a change of image from what we would now regard as quite formal to one which would be a different form of formality, a different style. This would be prompted I expect by the way that cultures are coalescing, that as the European system becomes more integrated with twenty-seven different countries and legal systems operating and lawyers popping across all the time from one part of it to another, with the British legal system becoming a more integrated part of the world is part of the same phenomenon as all departments of life, all sorts of, any given department that you look at of life, I mean in respect of health or travel or education is progressively becoming more part of a global culture so that things look less different in one place than they do in another.

The legal system will I expect be different in that respect. That’s to say some of it has already begun. The absence of wigs and gowns in the civil system has already begun to take off, to become established, and this will I expect be even further advanced in ten years’ time.

Lynn Tayton: Well, in the criminal context, if one were to be pessimistic it may be that there would be no barristers in independent practice appearing before the criminal courts but instead you would have prosecutors employed by the Crown Prosecution Service and public defenders employed by a Criminal Defence Service. However, I hope that the value of the independent bar will continue to be recognised and that we will still have barristers in that context appearing in the future.

In terms of other developments, it may be that we might see the televising of court proceedings in ten years’ time, probably within strict parameters, and there’ll be technological advances I’m sure so, for example, we might find that court proceedings are recorded directly onto computers by means of voice recognition technology. But unless we discover in the meantime some infallible scientific way of telling whether someone is telling the truth or not then I think court proceedings are likely to be in a recognisable format in ten years’ time.

Gary Slapper: Judges use laptops and lawyers use laptops as we speak, but I think that probably in ten years’ time the extent to which you’re able to access and use the entire law library in what will be one perhaps slim portable book and to call up things and to share information that’s on your page instantly with similar machines across the courtroom will change. So I think they may look technologically different, and that what we now regard as, you know, cutting edge developments like having the whole, a courtroom or a room in a legal office Wi-Fied and people walking about with laptops may look by a quantum leap different in the future.

And another thing would be sort of in the audio world, I think there will be a, they will sound different. What is accepted in a way as standard English and a received pronunciation as it has done throughout history changes. As I say, if you listen to courtroom proceedings in the 1950s or the 1910s or the 1890s, if you listen to the way that language was used, I don’t just mean the vocabulary, I mean the pronunciation and the accents, the inflections and so on, this changes quite a lot and I suppose that the more that English becomes coalescent it becomes influenced through the internet and world access to films and documentaries, news and current affairs, people begin to speak in a more similar way, less culturally and nationally differentiated uses of the language.

Abigail Bright: Well I think jury trials will certainly be retained but I think perhaps the constitution of juries will be a little different in say complex serious fraud trails. I would imagine in ten years’ time that jurors in those trials would be selected randomly from pools of accountants or other professionals involved in with money, auditing and keeping track of money. I think that would be one difference. And also a second difference I think would be that more use would be made of Community Service Orders and, in appropriate cases, less use of prison terms.

Jane Goodey: Well I’m not sure whether ten years is enough for this but possibly the appearance of the people in the court, so that maybe if we went into a court in ten years’ time we wouldn't see so much horse hair and 18th century court dress. Possibly the development of the appearance of solicitors with higher rights of audience in the court will actually force this within the ten years, but of course I may be completely wrong.

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