Take A Look At The Wrong Guy Beating Up The Lawman
I have been trying to work out why the recent death of David Bowie has hit me so hard. Losing somebody who, even if you never knew them, was so much a part of your youth is always harsh with unwelcome reminders of mortality. For a shy 13-year-old schoolboy, Bowie was a revelation. His music burst out of the radio and gripped. The melodies went off in directions you never expected them to and the lyrics, initially meaningless, became deep and daring and sometimes dark and dangerous. And then there was the look. In an age when being anything less than neanderthal meant that you were a “poof” Bowie made it okay to be different, to be you, whatever you were. Of course, many of us embraced this new individuality in a wholly uniform way. Bowie’s was the first haircut I ever copied, as did most of the guys in my class! With our hair brushed back and high and parted in the centre we all felt that much cooler and freer and, ironically, different.
Then, just as we were embracing our inner Ziggy Stardust, Bowie killed Ziggy, went on to reinvent himself, and made us think again about who we really wanted to be. But, through every change of style and look, there was always the music; always different, always challenging. In the few weeks since his death I have been listening to that music over and over again and I have realised that what made it so special was that it always sounded like the future. Genuinely like the future, the future you wanted to be part of because the music will always be this good.
Sometimes glimpses of what people think the future is going to be like are hilarious. Watch any vintage episode of Star Trek and you realise that he may have boldly gone where no man has gone before, but Captain Kirk has the worst mobile phone ever. He is still using a flip phone! He doesn’t have Facetime. Hell, he hasn’t even got a smart phone. With Bowie, you play “Sound and Vision” or “Heroes” today and they still sound like an iPhone 14, something that we will have one day but we are not quite there yet.
It was with all these thoughts running round in my head that I sat down to read about the vision of the future set out by Lord Justice Briggs, the court of appeal judge who has recently published a study on the future of civil justice as part of a consultation process he is conducting leading to concrete recommendations. Peering into the future, Briggs sees online courts cutting not only paper but also judges and lawyers out of the justice system for civil disputes of up to £25,000. Court hearings would be largely automated and interactive, adjudicated over by non-judges sitting in cyberspace.
According to Briggs this will allow “litigants to be enabled to have effective access to justice without lawyers”. Well, the benefits are not hard to discern and are almost entirely financial. It make litigation much cheaper for the parties and it will save whichever is the government of the day shedloads of money in administering the civil justice system and having to fund judges and court rooms. There will undoubtedly be access, but to justice? I am not quite sure how that is going to be the consequence of the process. Yes, civil justice is in many ways a horribly arcane system, eye-wateringly expensive and in need of so many improvements. But the reason we put up with all these imperfections is that, by and large, it works. Civil justice is done and it is seen to be done. By all means let’s make it better and fairer and, yes, even cheaper. But let’s be careful before we digitise the justice out of it.
I would like to think that some of the visionaries of this brave new legal world are trying to imagine what a smart phone will be like in 25 years’ time and coming up with Captain Kirk’s communicator. As for me, I am just doing what Bowie said in “Changes” – “Turn and face the strange. Just gonna have to be a different man. Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.”