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Letters to New Law Journal


Financing the Courts

Note by Francis Bennion


I have written before about various aspects of judicial independence (see for example 2004.014). In the letter below my subject is the need for judges to control the finances needed for provision of court buildings, staff and other judicial services. Square brackets indicate editorial omissions.


157 NLJ (15 Jun 2007) 825

Doc. No. 2007.013 NLJ034L


Dear Editor,


The illuminating article by Sir Geoffrey Bindman (NLJ, 18 May 2007, p 681) touches on several key areas. One that has long troubled me was [thus] identified by Lord Bingham of Cornhill in his 2000 Presidential address to the Bentham Club:


‘If it is accepted (as it is) that the exercise of judicial authority should be separated from the exercise of executive and legislative authority, then institutions through which judicial authority is exercised – all of them - should reflect that separation’.


In other words the courts should be administered and financed under the control of the judiciary not the executive.


[In Bentham’s day the courts had an independent existence because they were financed by fees paid directly to their judges by litigants, a system of which Jeremy Bentham did not approve. Perhaps we should turn to an updated version of that, with appropriate safeguards.


In the 11th F A Mann lecture delivered in 1987 Lord Browne-Wilkinson said that the assessment of judicial need for a facility is not for ministers but judges. Yet] gradually, since the Beeching Commission of 1969, ministers, under Treasury direction, have come to control expenditure on the courts. [(So stated by Lord Justice Thomas in his 2004 Combar lecture.)]


In his article Sir Geoffrey says that many problems of our legal system are due to failure by the Treasury under Gordon Brown to provide adequate resources. The future prospects are intensely worrying. Can we hope for anything better under a new and perhaps more enlightened Chancellor of the Exchequer, now Mr Brown has (nearly) gone from that post? It seems unlikely.

Francis Bennion