Elizabeth Truss is MP for South West Norfolk, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.
It takes real courage to speak out against injustice – to stand up against violence, corruption and crime in defence of decency and the Rule of Law.
Yet every year thousands of men, women and children do just that.
Every week our courts witness countless acts of bravery. A child who stands up to her abuser, a witness prepared to relive shocking events, a victim of crime determined that no one else will suffer as they have.
They are supported by a judiciary that is rightly famed the world over for its independence, impartiality and incorruptibility, and by solicitors and barristers who are as driven as they are talented.
Yet every court user is all too often let down by the courts system itself.
At best it can be frustrating. Bogged down by delays, mired in endless paperwork, and bedevilled by stop-start proceedings.
These delays are even recognised in the official guidance for witnesses and victims. They are told the court will “seek” to ensure that “as far as possible” people do not wait “more than two hours”.
At worst the system can fail the very people it is designed to protect – vulnerable victims and witnesses who all too easily can feel overwhelmed, frightened and confused by their experience of court.
Senior judges agree with me that in order for the law to be truly accessible, our courts and tribunals must undergo serious reform. Since I was sworn in as Lord Chancellor I have been working closely with the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, on sweeping changes to how our courts and tribunals operate.
Those proposals are published today in a historic paper, ‘Transforming Our Justice System’ – the first vision statement to be written jointly by a Lord Chancellor and a Lord Chief Justice.
Among the measures are plans to roll out pre-trial cross-examination across the country to make sure more victims and witnesses are spared the trauma of having to be in court.
The national roll-out follows three successful pilots which showed victims felt better protected and witnesses had greater recall of events when their evidence was recorded ahead of a trial. Almost three quarters of the cases involved sexual offences.
The paper also details our plans to allow more people facing fines for minor offences to admit their guilt and pay the penalty online.
We live in a society where you can apply for a mortgage or a job on-line, you can do your weekly shop from your home, plan holidays, weddings and parties on the internet. It’s high time our courts caught up.
Justice should be woven into the fabric of our daily lives – a part of society, not apart from society.
I want a justice system that works for everyone.
That better protects the vulnerable, that offers swifter – but no less sure – justice and frees up our judiciary and lawyers from the myriad inefficiencies that plague their working lives.
Over the centuries our legal system has always adapted to meet the demands of the age.
The sealing of Magna Carta in 1215 marked the moment when our forebears decided that no one, not even the king, should be above the law – an idea that this country exported around the world. “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay, right or justice.”
The principle still stands today as the bedrock of our justice system. The right to a fair trial remains at the heart of everything we do.
Our reforms spring from a shared determination to ensure that the system continues to be the envy of the world while never losing sight of its fundamental role in upholding the Rule of Law.
I would like to thank Lord Thomas for his steadfast and clear-sighted guidance.
Together we will deliver a system that is no less just but is far more efficient and accessible.
The last time such fundamental reforms were contemplated, 15 years ago, the limitations of technology meant we could only tinker with the system.
Today, we can make wholesale changes.
Changes that will offer more protection for victims and witnesses, better support for the judiciary and legal professionals, and bring justice closer to all.