Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Courts shake-up must be handled carefully

Plans for a radical shake-up of the UK’s courts system have received a cautious welcome from a  legal expert in our firm. But Nikki Pickering warned that although the move to privatise the justice system could save up to £1 billion a year, the new arrangements would need to be sensitively handled.

“Officials have been exploring new ways forward after the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling called for an enquiry to make sure the courts and tribunal service provide value for money. And now, within just a few weeks, Mr Grayling will receive their findings and the changes could begin as soon as autumn this year.”

Nikki said under the new system, court buildings and thousands of court staff would no longer be controlled by the Ministry of Justice, and would transfer into the hands of private companies.

“The courts and tribunal system would be a wholly commercial enterprise, and although the move would save money, it would also bring its own challenges too. If the court buildings were transferred into private ownership, it would be vital for the legal system to retain control of opening hours and these should not be dictated by commercial decisions.

“What if a court needed to be opened on a Saturday for an emergency hearing and the commercial providers did not agree? These new proposals would change the very foundations of our legal system which has been in place since Magna Carta.

“And even though we’re all fully aware of the difficult financial climate, and the need to make swingeing cost savings, these must not be achieved to the detriment of keeping our legal system fair for everyone.”

If the new proposals go ahead, the courts and tribunal system would be funded through larger fees from wealthy clients and private sector investment, and by encouraging hedge funds to invest by an attractive rate of return.