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ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR ALL – MYTH OR FACT?

In a modern society, one of the corner stones of a good justice system is that not only should everyone have access to it, but everyone should be able to participate fully and fairly in it. Rule 1 of the FPR, 2010 enshrines the principle that the Court should endeavour to ensure that all parties are put on ‘an equal footing’. Inevitably, this can only be achieved if appropriate adjustments are made.

The most obvious and perhaps topical example is where Courts allow ‘special measures’ so that victims of domestic violence can give ‘best evidence’. This includes accommodating any legitimate concern which may arise from an alleged perpetrator of abuse being allowed to question an alleged victim directly, so as to avoid so-called ‘re-victimising’. Indeed amongst the factors which a Court must have regard to when assessing ‘vulnerability’ are:

a) domestic abuse, within the meaning given in Practice Direction 12J;

b) sexual abuse;

c) physical and emotional abuse,

However Courts must also have regard to:

d) racial and/or cultural abuse or discrimination;

e) forced marriage or so called “honour based violence”;

f) female genital or other physical mutilation;

g) abuse or discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation; and

h) human trafficking.

It is very sad that there are not enough intermediaries/advocates to ensure that vulnerable users of the Court, who have mental health difficulties, may readily participate. Apart from the usual jungle of administrative requirements, the chronic shortage is exacerbated by the pressure on Courts to get cases listed quickly, with little flexibility on time.  In other words ‘fairness is being sacrificed at the altar of speed!’

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