Court costs should be cut, says Lord Neuberger

Scales of justice
Image caption Lord Neuberger is president of the Supreme Court

Cross-examination of witnesses in some cases could be dispensed with to save money in the court system, the UK's most senior judge has suggested.

Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, said judges and ministers must "face up" to the fact legal proceedings are prohibitively expensive for most people.

He told the Institute for Government courts must become more cost efficient.

But he warned the government against restricting access to judicial reviews.

"Legal services are expensive, court procedures are not always proportionate and money for legal aid is scarce," the senior judge said.

He said it was the duty of the government and judges to make court procedures "more efficient and proportionate".

"Radical solutions may be required," he added.

Lord Neuberger said the legal profession and ministers had best maintain access to justice within the "harsh realities" of government finance.

He said lessons might be learned from an online dispute resolution systems such as that on internet auction site eBay.

'Just society'

He suggested "dispensing with disclosure of documents and cross-examination, even with an oral hearing, in smaller cases", saying it was "better to have a judge's summary decision quickly" than not to have a judgement because a case becomes too expensive to go to court.

But he defended the rise in the use of judicial reviews, where a member of the public can challenge the government and other powerful authorities in the courts.

"We must always bear in mind that the ability to hold the executive to account is essential to the rule of law," he said.

"It protects citizens from administrative excess and ensures that the executive adheres to the law."

Ministers want to restrict access to judicial reviews, which they say are holding up immigration decisions and building projects.

Lord Neuberger warned the government that "great care" should be taken, adding: "It is a small price to pay for a democratic and just society."

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