Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Financing the courts

I was talking to someone who knows the other day, who told me that many courts are experiencing horrendous financial problems. Their funding is insufficient and they are having to make more and more cuts, which are affecting the services that they provide. For example badly paid staff, with no proper training resulting in a high staff turnover, not enough money to employ sufficient deputy district judges which means huge back logs with box work and delayed court hearings. All very bad news.

Well one answer is perhaps for the courts to become a bit more commercial and start earning some extra income. Here are a few suggestions:

A monthly newsletter. I have always thought that this would be a good idea – it could have announcements about court services, new initiatives etc, letters from readers, articles by Judges about procedures not being followed properly, Q&A sections, information about new court rules and procedures and the like. Virtually all solicitors firms and barristers chambers would no doubt subscribe. If the court charged £250 pa and got 200 subscriptions that would be £50,000 per year. It could be either paper or electronic.

Guided tours around the courts. Sounds awful but if stately homes can make money at it, why not the courts? The guide could give information about the judicial and court system, plus some juicy stories about famous trials which had taken place and the like.

A business centre, e.g. for solicitors and lawyers. For example wi fi cards for laptops, a photocopying service, hire of computers with internet access, hire of standard legal books such as the green book by the day or half day, and fax facilities.

A bookshop selling legal books, both for the general public (for example the LawPack range) and text and other books for solicitors and barristers. Plus some bodice rippers for bored advocates to read in the advocates room if they have to wait a long time for hearings to come on and don’t have any work to do or colleagues to talk to! It could also usefully stock counsels notebooks and pens.

These are just a few ideas. I am sure there are many more. Courts could ask their staff to make suggestions, with a bonus paid for the best ideas. Staff could also give suggestions for savings as well – often quite junior members of staff can come up with brilliant ideas that no-one else has ever thought of.

So there you are. No doubt there are reasons why none of these can happen, but I am sure that if they made an effort and thought in a different and more entrepreneurial way, courts could do a lot to bring in some more cash. They are obviously not going to get it from the government.

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