Retiring judge attacks civil law reforms
A CIRCUIT judge well-known for his dog who accompanies him to court has made a stinging attack on the Government's reforms of civil law.Judge Nicholas Brandt has presided over Colchester County Court since 1988, in the constant company of his dogs Barty and subsequently Jock, but yesterday he made his final appearance on the bench before he retires next week.
A CIRCUIT judge well-known for his dog who accompanies him to court has made a stinging attack on the Government's reforms of civil law.
Judge Nicholas Brandt has presided over Colchester County Court since 1988, in the constant company of his dogs Barty and subsequently Jock, but yesterday he made his final appearance on the bench before he
retires next week.
But before Judge Brandt stepped down from his public position he accused the Government of denying people access to civil justice by its reforms of the civil legal system in the Access to Justice Act.
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Under the Access to Justice Act, passed in 1999, people are discouraged from taking civil disputes to court and instead directed to alternative dispute resolution such as mediation or arbitration and community legal services where barristers act on a pro bono basis. In addition attempts have been made to cut down on personal injury cases.
Legal aid available for civil cases has also been shaken up with means-testing replaced by a funding assessment which judges whether going to court is the correct action to take.
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Nowadays the majority of civil legal aid goes on family cases, such as parents sorting out disputes about children.
Judge Brandt said people can no longer afford to take action in civil courts.
"Since the demise of civil aid in civil cases people cannot afford to litigate. Access to the civil courts is largely governed by the Access to Justice Act. This would better be described as the "continuing denial of access to justice act".
"Since I've been a judge I have seen Maldon County Court, Braintree County Court, Bishop's Stortford County Court and Sudbury County Court all closed. The tendency is nationwide so less and less civil justice is to be obtained locally.
"The Access to Justice Act has to all intents and purposes abolished legal aid for civil litigants.
"We are rapidly returning to the days when the doors to civil justice are open to all just like the doors of the Ritz Hotel," said the Judge.
He added: "The civil justice system has become the Cinderella of the legal system."
"Moreover there has been a marked increase in the number of unfortunate litigants who have to conduct their cases themselves. I feel confident in reaching the correct and just solution where the parties are properly represented. I feel no such confidence where one party is at such a marked disadvantage through lack of proper representation."
Judge Brandt held a reception to say an emotional farewell to counsels, solicitors, court staff and district judges in the court house yesterday.
During his time at Colchester County Court, which covers north Essex and south Suffolk, the judge has hit the headlines because of his dogs. His springer spaniel, Barty, who died in 1999, was banned from court when a businessman claimed the dog's snores distracted him as he gave evidence.
His current dog, Jack Russell Jock, put the judge back in the limelight over Christmas 1999 when he went missing. He turned up after a week covered in dirt, hungry and with a cut on his nose.
In 2001 a man was cleared of making threats to kill Judge Brandt in a criminal case heard at Ipswich Crown Court.
He has already made plans for his retirement, which include sailing around the Mediterranean on his boat and going to the rugby world cup in Australia.