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Wednesday, 27 November, 2002, 01:14 GMT
Civil justice system 'close to collapse'
Lord Phillips
Lord Phillips: 'We cannot go on forever'
The UK's civil justice system is "creaking at the seams" and cannot be sustained much longer, one of the country's highest judicial figures has told the BBC.

Master of the Rolls Lord Justice Phillips runs the civil courts in England and Wales with a budget of more than 400m and is the second most senior judge after the Lord Chief Justice.

He warned that civil litigants will be denied justice because of spiralling court costs - unless the treasury stumps up a further 300m within three years.

Lord Phillips told the BBC's Newsnight programme the system "is creaking at the seams because of lack of resources".


You are going to end up denying effective and efficient justice

Master of the Rolls Lord Justice Phillips

He added: "If we do not modernise, the system is not merely going to creak - it is going to fall apart.

"We have been keeping going as a result of the devotion of the court staff and the judges in conditions that really are hardly viable.

"We cannot go on forever."

Lord Phillips told the programme the UK was now the only country he knew of where litigants had to fully finance the civil court system - with "dire consequences".

"The litigant has to pay in court fees for the cost of maintaining buildings, the cost of the judges.

"Either you raise the fees to cover the cost or you reduce the resources - cut staff.

"And whichever way you do it you are going to end up denying effective and efficient justice."

Intrusive photography

Lord Phillips' warning comes as the Commons public accounts committee reveals that almost half the fines imposed by criminal courts in England and Wales are going unpaid.

He also told Newsnight a new law protecting people's right to privacy "would make our life very much easier".

"There is scope for moving further in the direction of protecting individuals' privacy against, for instance, intrusive photography," Lord Phillips added.

And he stressed he was not afraid to challenge the government.

"If you think the correct interpretation of the law is going to displease the home secretary, you have to disregard that and go ahead without fear or favour," he said.

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Master of the Rolls Lord Justice Phillips
"We have been keeping going in conditions which really are hardly viable"
See also:

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