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Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 143:

(1) Amend section 40 of the Courts-Martial (Appeals) Act 1968 (c. 20) (applications for leave to appeal to House of Lords) as follows.

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(2) In subsection (1)—
(a) for "fourteen" (in both places) substitute "28", and
(b) for "date of the decision of the Court" substitute "relevant date".
(3) After subsection (1) insert—
"(1A) In subsection (1), "the relevant date" means—
(a) the date of the Appeal Court's decision, or
(b) if later, the date on which the Court gives reasons for its decision.""

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 87 [Fees]:

Lord Hunt of Wirral moved Amendment No. 144:

    Page 42, line 8, at end insert "and should only seek to recover the recurrent running costs of the courts"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 144 gives us an opportunity to look again at Clause 87. As the Minister knows, the clause has caused a high level of concern among those who fear its effect on access to justice. The debate will give the noble Baroness an opportunity to give the Government's view regarding the situation so far in the spirit that we have entered into on Report. I hope she will indicate the views of both herself and her colleague on how best to take forward the system with the amendments that were made in Committee.

The Minister will recall that I have always been concerned about the shadow of the Treasury hanging over this clause. Indeed, she stoutly defended her position when stating that it was her position and that she certainly was not accepting any brief from the Treasury. I was very relieved at that until I read a speech made a few days ago by Sir Hayden Phillips, Permanent Secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department, on the 13th Denning Memorial Lecture held at International Students' House. All my fears have returned fourfold. I do not think that I am quoting Sir Hayden out of context. During the course of his speech he included the following words

    "I also head a Department that is not mortgaged to the bank, but like all Government Departments, mortgaged to Her Majesty's Treasury".

Undoubtedly, that speech was made with a degree of humour. However, it reveals the appalling truth, which many of us have thought for some time, that the poor Minister is already in hock.

On the last occasion we debated the clause, I recall that I gave the Minister the opportunity to say that she or the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would hold a meeting with the Civil Justice Council. Clause 87 has greatly exercised the council. It has given detailed consideration to the Government's policy of raising almost the full cost of the civil courts through fees levied on users and has concluded that this policy is not consistent with its aim of ensuring access to justice. The Civil Justice Council is composed of a range of very important people from all walks of life and is chaired by the Master of the Rolls. It concluded:

    "The policy is both wrong in principle and unfair in practice and has resulted in significant under funding of the courts which is in serious danger of undermining the civil justice reforms.

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    "The Council calls on the Government to abandon this objective".

I hope that the Minister will come to the Civil Justice Council and give it a full exposition of how the Government intend to deal with what after all is one of their most important bodies. Although I have not yet heard that a meeting is to take place, I hope that there will be one to debate the issues raised by Clause 87. It is in that context that I speak today.

I have heard certain stories emanating from the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand. Not long ago, I heard that, unfortunately, the franking machine had broken down and that no one had the funds to mend it. I have spoken to several people in high judicial office who spent several hours not only purchasing stamps but sticking them on envelopes to overcome that problem.

I do not know whether that was an isolated occurrence, but I am also aware of promises that have been made about implementing the full information technology system in the courts, which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, reminded us on Second Reading, is so necessary to ensure that the civil justice reforms work. I do not know what stage we have reached in implementing that system, but I hope that it will be fully implemented soon.

So my purpose is to give the noble Baroness the opportunity to respond to those and other concerns and to reassure us about them. In that context, I have much pleasure in moving the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am happy to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. Historically, provision of the courts has been one of the most important and long-standing responsibilities of the government. Indeed, if one goes back in history, it dates back as far as almost anything other than the provision of Armed Forces to protect the country. It is important that the provision of an effective and accessible system of justice should be regarded as one of the prime duties of any Government. There is a real danger that if provision of court services is to be financed through court fees at a level that effectively means that they are self-financing, we will end up by denying a great many people access to justice.

Some years ago, I remember the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, advocating in a public lecture that the courts, the judiciary, should have the power to levy a precept on the Government for what was necessary to maintain the legal system in effective working order. Although that has many attractions, that is perhaps going a step too far—even though I understand that that happens in some other jurisdictions. Nevertheless, we must accept the principle that we cannot combine an accessible judicial system with something that is wholly self-financing—even setting aside the burden of legal aid. In those circumstances, the amendment has our full support.

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3.45 p.m.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, there is a fine ring to the phrase, "access to justice", and I fully endorse all the sentiments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. When it comes to the administration of justice for every level of society, the Labour government elected after the Second World War was foremost in the introduction of legal aid and advice to make real the notion that the administration of justice should be available for all. I therefore fully agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart said; I believe that I largely agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral.

However, perhaps I may use another phrase, which is that the administration of justice by our Royal Courts of Justice—by our senior courts in particular—is the provision of a service. Some litigants who need that service are well able to pay more than they may have in the past by way of fees, to demonstrate that while that service is available—the reputation of our judges is such that many people, including those from abroad, want that service—the taxpayers of this country should not pay all the cost of providing the service.

A distinction may therefore be made between cases, especially of high-powered commercial cases brought by well-heeled litigants in the business field who choose to come to the courts, perhaps as an alternative to arbitration where, of course, they pay the full costs of the building and of the fees of the arbitrator, as well as of their own lawyers. Insofar as it has been beneficial to UK Ltd, as it were, to attract people to our courts as well as to have their cases determined by UK arbitrators, those cases may have a much closer affinity to arbitration cases than they do to poorer members of society seeking justice against a litigant.

Such cases are certainly distinct from human rights cases, where people need the court to ensure their important human rights—with which I know that the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Hunt, are very concerned. The Master of the Rolls and the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, have frequently made speeches describing the various alternatives. If the High Court is too much of a Rolls-Royce which cannot sensibly be made available to everyone, the county courts, the small claims system, arbitration, an ombudsman and mediation should at least be available as alternatives in such circumstances.

So, surely, the Lord Chancellor's Department should endeavour on behalf of the British taxpayer—it involves not just the Treasury but the British taxpayer—to receive a measure of fees back, especially from certain litigants who want to use the service that we provide in our courts. Can we not trust the Lord Chancellor's Department to distinguish between such cases and others in which, if the courts are to be available to all, only the minimum of fees should be payable?

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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I have much sympathy with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, but, if I may interpose, I think that he was referring to ordinary people being denied access to justice. If that interpretation is correct, I wholly concur. It is incumbent on my noble friend the Minister today to state whether, if the amendment is not carried, ordinary people will be denied access to justice. None of our courts should be a vehicle for the Government to make a profit. In many ways, our courts provide a social service, which should continue. I do not think that anything proposed by my noble friend interferes with that right, which is all-important.

I am troubled by some things that my noble friend Lord Borrie said. What he is arguing is ripe for misinterpretation. But it is a good idea that we should debate the issue outside the House of Lords. We should consider the entire issue, not in the context of the Bill, but as one of great importance. For that reason, although I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has said, I do not think that there should be a Division.

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