Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Who is going to run the courts?

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In July 2013, the Ministry of Justice issues an interesting press notice, comprising a letter from the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals. Although written in emollient tone, it raises some interesting questions about how the judicial estate – the buildings in which courts and tribunals sit – is to be managed in future.
The letter does not imply that any changes are imminent. But there is clearly a process going on within the MoJ which could result in big change.
The letter makes clear that “The provision of justice is and will remain a core function of the State. The Lord Chancellor is, and will continue to be, responsible by statute for the provision of an efficient and effective system to support the administration of justice. We are all committed to ensuring that vital constitutional safeguards (including access to justice, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and the preservation of the position of the Lord Chief Justice) are maintained.

“There will be no erosion of the constitutional position of courts and tribunals or the constitutional principles which underpin the independent administration of justice.”

Nonetheless, the letter also states: “Our courts are not always where they need to be and not always used to the full. Our buildings do not always offer modern, high quality facilities. Some are not properly accessible to all users. They should be better equipped to enable the business of the courts and tribunals to be conducted more efficiently. A variety of difficult decisions will be required as to the appropriate level at which fees are set and about how best to deliver access to justice and value for money for the taxpayer.”

The inference I draw from this is that the programme of court closures currently being implemented will not be the end of the story.

The authors of the letter are clear that they want more investment in IT – achieved for criminal courts but not universal. Thus, while rejecting the idea of the court service becoming a profit-making body,: “We have been reflecting on whether it would be possible to ensure adequate investment and where consistent with the administration of justice, options to generate and retain additional income and capital for investment.”

The inference I draw from this is that there is a strong likelihood that one of the options for change will be increased fees to be paid by litigants for using the courts and tribunals service – with consequent implications for access to justice.

They also ask “whether an alternative structure, such as a more independent public interest corporation, would better ensure a sustainable future”.

A wider implication that arises is that if access to courts does become increasingly expensive, there is likely to be greater recourse to dispute resolution procedures that fall outside the court system.

To read the letter, go to:


Written by lwtmp

August 20, 2013 at 9:53 am

Posted in Chapter 4

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