In 2001-02, the Supreme Court, which includes the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Crown Court, racked up the biggest deficit in the Court Service, according to official figures. The Family Court recorded a loss of £48m, while the County Court recorded a massive £33.5m surplus.
The Supreme Court deficit is threatening the chances of the much maligned Commercial Court, which is part of the High Court, being rebuilt with Government money. The Commercial Court rooms in St Dunstan’s House are so cramped that parties often cannot fit in alongside their documents.
On 2 April, the Lord Chancellor’s Department (LCD), a group of judges, leading City litigators and the Lord Mayor of London Gavyn Arthur will meet to come up with a solution to the crisis.
The Lord Chancellor has been committed to building a new Commercial Court for over two years, but so far every funding plan has been shelved.
The LCD has no money in its three-year budget to improve the Commercial Court, and in the face of the Supreme Court losing money hand over fist, the LCD is expected to push for a private finance initiative.
The London Solicitors’ Litigation Association (LSLA) is expected to argue against a PFI and to fight for the Queen’s Building in the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) to be knocked down and replaced with a new Commercial Court.
A source close to the LSLA revealed it is lobbying for the London County Court and the City of London Mayor’s County Court to be moved to the RCJ complex. This would bring more fees into the Supreme Court and free up resources for the Commercial Court.
The LCD is also understood to be examining the possibility of turning Smithfields Meat Market in the City into a site for a new Commercial Court.
Treasury funding seems highly unlikely.
“When the Supreme Court is losing so much money, why on earth would the Treasury want to throw more resources at it?” queried one City litigator involved in the discussions.