In the latest in a series of letters to the judiciary, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge and the senior president of tribunals Sir Jeremy Sullivan have stressed that HM Courts and Tribunals Service will not be ‘sold’ off to a private company with shareholders, but that options for change include the possibility of it being taken over by a ‘public interest corporation’.
In the letter the three state: “The examination of options is considering, for example, whether the current structures could be transformed, or whether an alternative structure, such as a more independent public interest corporation, would better ensure a sustainable future. Whatever model is eventually put forward for consideration, the only options which will be considered will be consistent with constitutional principle.”
That constitutional principle means, says the letter, that: “The provision of justice is and will remain a core function of the State. The Lord Chancellor is, and will continue to be, responsible by statute for the provision of an efficient and effective system to support the administration of justice.”
They continue: “We are all committed to ensuring that vital constitutional safeguards (including access to justice, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and the preservation of the position of the Lord Chief Justice) are maintained.”
There had been criticism following previous correspondence that a plan to privatise the courts was under consideration, a plan denied by the three correspondents.
“We are not and will not be exploring any options which will involve shareholders, the making of a profit or surplus or contracting out or profit making on the basis of judicial and linked administrative functions, other than for the exclusive purpose of investing any surplus into the administration of justice,” the letter says. “No replacement organisation for HMCTS would be contemplated unless it was a body operated solely in the public interest.”
Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan is quoted in the Law Society Gazette as saying he was pleased that Mr Grayling had reconsidered his “half-baked” plans to privatise the courts service.
“Our justice system only survives on the confidence of the public, and any future model must enshrine the independence of the system if this confidence is to be maintained,” he said. “It was barmy to even consider introducing profit-making and privatisation into our courts as this would have dangerously skewed the system from its reputation for being unbiased and independent.”