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Master of the Rolls clarifies comments appearing to suggest small claimants don’t need justice

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Legal Twitter takes aim at Sir Geoffrey Vos

The Master of the Rolls has sparked controversy by appearing to suggest that people making small court claims don’t really care whether they get justice so long as the decision is quick and cheap.

In a speech delivered last week, Sir Geoffrey Vos said that “for small claims, the parties often want a swift cost-free resolution, without much caring whether the outcome is robust and dependable”.

Vos later clarified that he was talking about disputes over “micro transactions” on eBay, rather than County Court small claims which can be for up to £10,000.

But the speech as published very much didn’t make that clear, prompting legal Twitter to lambast England’s top civil judge as “out of touch” for his “very worrying” statement.

Speaking to the Society for Computers and Law on 17 March, Vos canvassed tech trends such as blockchain, smart contracts and the “meteoric rise in quantum computing that I have seen described as being likely to ‘upend’ every industry”. The speech went on to predict what dispute resolution might look like in the brave new world of 2040.

It included this controversial passage:

“Every justice system has to cater for the types of people and entity who are entitled to access it. It is important to understand that justice is no longer a binary process. This important principle underpinned Woolf’s reforms last century and it remains true. For small claims, the parties often want a swift cost-free resolution, without much caring whether the outcome is robust and dependable. In large disputes and some other types of claim, the parameters will be different, and the parties may be prepared to invest time and money in achieving a more just and perhaps objectively correct solution.”

That went down like a cup of cold sick on legal Twitter when the transcript emerged.

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It turns out other panellists had similar reactions on the night. Former Court of Appeal judge Elizabeth Gloster took Vos up on his “fast food approach”, saying “I don’t know where you grew up in the County Court, but it wasn’t in the sort of small claims case that I was doing, where the smaller the case, the more the parties care desperately not about getting an answer, but getting what they think is the right answer”.

That prompted Vos to row back all the way to the boathouse.

“The claims that I’ve been talking about… are on eBay… they’re for very small sums of money generally and people genuinely don’t care because they don’t want to spend any money”, he said.

Vos added: “I’m not talking about those that think they need to take their small claim to the County Court”.

Elsewhere in the speech, Vos had referred to “the 60 million small claims brought every year on eBay… I would expect that most such disputes will be resolved very quickly indeed by AI driven portals that provide a rough and ready resolution”. But this was several paragraphs after the reference to small claimants not caring about the outcome of their cases, so it’s not like the extract was taken out of context — only the unpublished Q&A clears up the misunderstanding.

Vos, 66, has made lawtech his specialist subject, speaking regularly about the paper-free, crypto-heavy law of the not-too-distant future. Most such speeches pass without incident.

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16 Comments

Anonn

Years ago, I secured £2,000 in compensation for schizophrenic client under the criminal injuries compensation scheme. He was so happy he had tears in his eyes at tribunal.

I returned to the office and heard a Public School-educated volunteer with a commercial pupillage loudly proclaim into his phone that £2,000 was a ‘fantastic’ price for his Club World business class plane seats and that he was really looking forward to his tenth trip to the USA that year.

They really are hopelessly clueless.

(42)(13)

Nigel

I think your public school educated braying Rupert might have read your comment!

(12)(8)

Anonn

Not with those ludicrous hours at the commercial bar

(12)(0)

Rupert; earning far more than you ever will

So…Nige…

Why do you think it’s OK to stereotype a particular class of person by mocking someone’s name?

(2)(1)

Anon

Not as hopeless as people from state schools I encounter. Chippy, insecure, gauche and badly educated.

(7)(10)

Anonymous

You should know that discrimination against the rich will make you unpopular among fellow lawyers.

Most lawyers are people with a strong sense of justice, and there is no more insidious, virulent, or socially-accepted bigotry than the hatred of the rich. The public school educated know this particularly well, having had their accents cruelly derided for their entire lives by coarse plebs. The wealthy and aspirational understand this because they are by definition the most exploited members of society, paying the largest amount of tax. Worse still, so few care for the suffering of the rich. The poor will never understand the scale of the terrible injustices perpetuated by their grasping ressentiment.

And that is why so many legal cheek readers wish to become commercial solicitors. To act for those whom nobody else will. To ease the terrible burdens society cruelly forces them to bear.

(6)(4)

Anonymous

I think your state school educated spiv Craig might have read your comment!

(6)(0)

Bah

Nice story, bro. Have you got any other fiction you are working on?

(0)(2)

Eponymous

If he meant cases brought to Court I doubt many dont want a proper and reasoned decision based on the evidence. If he meant in-house dispute resolution designed to mitigate liability for the facilitating company (e.g. ebay) the least cost then he doesnt understand what customer service is

(0)(0)

Anon

If, on the other hand, he offered to simply wipe out all PI RTA claims, on the basis 99% of them are either made up or delusional, I’d happily take a bullet for him.

(6)(2)

Wigwearer

The problem with loose talk like this is that eventually someone believes it.

(1)(1)

Anon

Hopefully people take notice, as it’s completely true.

Even the honest claimants are all utterly deluded.

It’s a pointless are of law, the definition of b**ls**t job, and society would be better if RTA PI claims were wiped out. Thanks for listening to my Ted Talk.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

He’s right in that many if not most small claims litigants primarily want a quick decision.

(5)(7)

Anonymous

He didn’t really suggest that though.

(2)(0)

Twitteratus

I am so angry at what I am told on Twitter Vos said I cannot take the time to read what he really said. I will forward on relentlessly and express my anger instead.

(0)(0)

Chancery barrister

This just sums up the thinking of High Court Judges at the Business & ‘Property‘ Courts. The name is misleading given that almost no property work finds its way into the High Court. It’s not a chancery centre either dealing with issue which concern ordinary people (the probate is dealt with by masters). It is the preserve of huge commercial disputes between faceless organisations dealing with mundane areas of law but fact intensive (have you seen the suitcases of bundles passing through security every morning?).

This focus on commercial work means that Judges are out of touch. They care not for smaller chancery matters. You can see the boredom glaze over the Judge’s eyes when they have been forced to hear an appeal from the county court for half a day.

Everything that is not a commercial case above £5m gets funnelled through the County Courts. The resources at the disposal of some decent circuit judges are a joke. By comparison, the High Court seems to want for nothing in terms of support staff.

There needs to be a fundamental rethink about allocation of cases and resources in this country

(5)(1)

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