A bit of a misnomer?

Tom Picton-Phillips of the mis-named County Court Users Association (the debt recovery association?) is not doing his members' interests any favours by advocating in his article 'Courting executive status' (The Lawyer 21 March) that plaintiffs in child custody and personal injury actions should pay the full cost of their use of the courts, rather than have those costs "subsidised" by his members' clients' fees for debt recovery work.

At present, with court fees covering only about two thirds of the cost of running the courts, no litigants are subsidising other litigants.

The real issue is whether the courts should aim to be self-financing at all and whether our civil justice system should be regarded as a public service because it is in the wider interests of society and the rule of law for civil disputes to be resolved through the courts.

If court fees are charged solely on the basis of the amount of court resources particular cases use, access to the civil courts will be even more restricted to the legally aided and the rich than at present and too many citizens will either be unable to pursue good claims at all, or will have to resolve them outside the courts. While the development of mediation and similar services is generally to be welcomed, citizens should not be obliged to use these services only because our civil justice system has priced itself out of their reach.

If the principle of self-financing was pushed to its ultimate conclusion, the CPS and defendants in criminal cases should also be charged for their use of the courts. Based on Mr Phillips arguments, that might improve the quality and speed at which justice is dispensed. Surely we would not pursue the principle that far.

There may well be very good arguments for developing a streamlined and cost-effective debt recovery system, but not at the expense of impeding access to justice for others whose disputes should be resolved through the courts.

Suzanne Burn


Civil Litigation Committee

Law Society