Page last updated at 00:03 GMT, Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Court cuts 'compromising judges'

The Scales of Justice at the Old Bailey
The government wants to increase the fees paid by court users

A leading judge has told the BBC he fears a conflict of interest as courts increasingly depend on income from fines and confiscations to operate.

The Ministry of Justice is in talks over a planned 1bn budget cut over the next three years, and wants civil courts to increasingly fund themselves.

But Keith Cutler, from the Council of Circuit Judges, said he was afraid of the impact on judges' independence.

A government spokeswoman said frontline court services would be protected.

'Unhappy'

Ministers want civil courts to increase the fees paid by court users, but Judge Cutler told BBC Radio 4's Law in Action programme he feared that could reduce access to justice for people on lower incomes.

He also expressed concern that courts would increasingly depend on funding from fines and confiscations: something which might compromise judges' independence.

The government is committed to a top quality courts system
Ministry of Justice spokeswoman

"We feel that it's right that the public should have that income and that it should go to the Ministry of Justice, but it shouldn't come directly into the courts service, because as judges we are independent," he said.

"We have to make decisions about fines and confiscation and so for us to have a financial interest in those areas is an area that we are unhappy about."

Judge Cutler said he had raised the judiciary's concerns with the government.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman: "It has long been the principle of successive governments to recover the cost of civil and family business through fee income.

"A small proportion of fine income is retained by Her Majesty's Courts Service if it meets its administrative fine recovery targets. There are no plans to change this."

To find out more, go to www.bbc.co.uk/lawinaction



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