Civil justice ‘in crisis’

Under-funding has left the UK’s civil justice system in “crisis”, a senior county court judge has said.

Judge Paul Collins, London’s top county court judge, said a funding shortfall is threatening the proper running of the courts.

“I believe that the civil justice system is currently in crisis and it seems to me that the effect of the cuts this year, together with further cuts looming throughout the life of the next comprehensive spending review, will, if visited upon the county courts, run the risk of bringing about a real collapse in the service that we’re able to give to litigants,” he told Radio 4’s Law in Action programme today.

“The staff in the court service are among the poorest paid of all government servants and in London it’s very, very difficult for us to retain the services of experienced staff.”

He pointed out that in some cases poor staffing resulted in documents not arriving in time for proper consideration by judges.

The criticisms were leapt on by opposition parties.

“Lord Falconer needs to explain how the county courts have got into such chaos under his watch,” said shadow constitutional affairs secretary Oliver Heald.

“While the Lord Chancellor is regularly wheeled out to defend the prime minister or the flawed Human Rights Act, shouldn’t he be concentrating on getting his own house in order at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, so that it delivers access to justice for all?”

Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman Simon Hughes added: “If Britain is to continue its reputation for proper access to high quality justice then we need to invest in our justice system as befits a key part of the welfare state.

“The next comprehensive spending review should give a generous settlement to the Department of Constitutional Affairs and the sooner we get a Ministry of Justice to battle publicly for these services the better.”

However, a spokesman from the Department of Constitutional Affairs rejected the idea that the county court system was in crisis.

“We don’t accept that there’s a crisis,” he told politics.co.uk.

“In all cases the county courts are meeting or exceeding their targets.”