Michael Gove
Michael Gove has outlined his plans to reform the judicial systemGetty

Justice secretary Michael Gove has used his first speech as head of the UK's judiciary to outline proposals, including making solicitors work more voluntary hours, while changes to legal aid would be mitigated by selling off Britain's courts.

Gove said court processes were sclerotic and their antiquated ways of working left individuals "at the mercy of grotesque inefficiencies and reinforce indefensible inequalities".

Speaking at the Legatum Institute in Mayfair, London, Gove outlined some of the blights on the UK justice system, saying cases were protracted, legal counsel were swamped with paperwork and the poorest people disproportionately suffered the most.

He said the current system was suited to wealthy individuals who choose to settle in London with its "gold standard" of British justice, while everyone else had to put up with the "creaking, outdated system".

Outlining the Conservatives' One Nation approach, Gove said it was his and David Cameron's vision to "make our justice system work better for victims; to deliver faster and fairer justice for all citizens; to make sure our system of family justice safeguards children, especially those at risk of abuse and neglect, more effectively than ever".

He continued: "To make sure the laws we pass provide protection for the weakest; to make our prisons places of rehabilitation which give those who have made the wrong choices opportunities for redemption; to help offenders when they leave custody to make the right choices and contribute to society.

"To rescue young offenders, and those who may be on the path to offending, from a life of crime; and to reform our human rights legislation better to protect the fundamental freedoms we all cherish."

Unnecessary court procedures

The Lord Chancellor called for an end to unnecessary court procedures, which he said should be "stripped out" from the process, and called for prosecutions to be brought forward more quickly in a bid to cut down on the 33,000 ineffective trials that occurred in 2014.

In a bid to mitigate Britain's legal aid bill – which stood at £1.7bn ($2.7bn) for all criminal and civil legal aid in 2014-15 – and in a message to law firms, Gove said solicitors should work more hours pro bono and that he could not accept that "the status quo was defensible".

"Last year, according to a survey by the Law Society, 16% of solicitors in commerce and industry provided an hour or more pro bono work," he said.

"When it comes to investing in access to justice then it is clear to me that it is fairer to ask our most successful legal professionals to contribute a little more rather than taking more in tax from someone on the minimum wage."

Elsewhere in his keynote speech, Gove said online solutions could reduce the strain on courts and suggest empty ones could be sold.

"It is still the case that many of our courts stand idle for days and weeks on end. Last year, over a third of courts and tribunals sat for less than 50% of their available hours [10am – 4pm].

"At a time when every government department has to find savings, it makes more sense to deliver a more efficient court estate than, for example, make further big changes to the legal aid system."