Government proposes £100m RCJ modernisation programme

The Government is embarking on a controversial £100m scheme to modernise and restructure the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) using a private finance initiative (PFI) and heightened court fees, with no new public money earmarked for the project.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) plans to move the Commercial Court, the Admiralty Court and possibly the Technology and Construction Court (TCC) into a new building in the RCJ complex, and to move the Family Court into the empty space left behind by the moves. The Central London County Court could also be moved into First Avenue House, where the Family Court currently sits.

The new building will be built on the site of the Queen’s Building in the RCJ complex by 2008, and it is proposed that a PFI consortium of private contractors will be brought in to build the new court, with heightened court fees paying for its upkeep.

The Commercial Court, the Admiralty Court and the TCC could start charging users to cover the costs, but this has not been resolved.

Speaking at a high-level meeting on 30 October, which included Lord Mayor of London Gavyn Arthur, two High Court judges and the heads of the Bar Council and the Law Society, DCA director of the Supreme Court Group Mark Camley unveiled the funding plan. He said the new package will cost between £70m and £100m.

The “three-tier” funding system will involve a PFI, court fees and £7m saved by the sale of St Dunstan’s House, the home of the Commercial Court, and rent savings from relocating the Family Court.

Camley will submit the plan to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer at the end of this month so he can take it to the Treasury for approval.

Tony Guise, president of the London Solicitors’ Litigation Association, which organised the meeting, said he does not mind how the project is funded so long as there is Government commitment.

“There are wonderful new civil courts in places like Dublin and Singapore because governments there have committed to the modernisation of their civil justice systems, ” he said.