The courts will not be privatised but reform is needed, Lord Chancellor and top judges declare

Judge: public interest corporation an option

The courts will not be privatised, but ways to generate more income and capital for investment are under review – as are “difficult decisions” about court fees, it emerged yesterday.

In a joint letter to all judges on reform of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling, Lord Judge the Lord Chief Justice and Sir Jeremy Sullivan, the Senior President of Tribunals, were adamant that there would be no privatisation.

The trio said: “We are not and will not be exploring any options which will involve share holders, the making of a profit or surplus or contracting out or profit making on the basis of judicial and linked administrative functions, other than for the exclusive purpose of investing any surplus into the administration of justice.

“No replacement organisation for HMCTS would be contemplated unless it was a body operated solely in the public interest.”

They said that whatever the final outcome, “the provision of justice is and will remain a core function of the state”, and there will be “no erosion” of the constitutional position of courts and tribunals

Nonetheless, given the current financial pressures, they said a reassessment of how best to ensure the continuing sustainability of the system, the provision of modern services, and better value for taxpayers’ money was needed.

“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.”

The letter acknowledged that “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”.

Though funds to modernise technology in the criminal courts have been secured following the recent spending review, “there is still some way to go before we have an IT system fit for purpose across the whole system”, the letter said.

“In short, given the financial stringency which will be applied to HMCTS, as to everywhere else, we are examining every realistic option to provide greater reliability of funding for the administration of justice, greater planning certainty, and to facilitate investment in modernisation.

“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.”

This includes whether the current structures could be transformed, “or whether an alternative structure, such as a more independent public interest corporation, would better ensure a sustainable future”.

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