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“What’s got two thumbs and just cost family justice a million pounds per year?”

My quick unscientific estimate of the cost of a transcript (I took the ones I’ve obtained in the last year and took an average, although I think my judgments are all fairly short)  £130 per case

From the CAFCASS figures on number of care proceedings issued in 2012 (april 2012-march 2013) that was 11,107

If, as a result of the President’s decision on transcripts, we obtain a transcript for each final judgment, that would cost the family justice system  £1,443,910

(yes, that’s nearly one and a half million pounds. A year.)

Now, to be fair, some of those final hearings are heard by Magistrates or District Judges, which aren’t included (at the moment) within the guidance that a transcript be obtained of each final hearing.

It is a bit tricky to work out what proportion – let’s be generous and say half. 

That still leads three quarters of a million pounds of taxpayers money.  A year. And the system isn’t getting any extra, so that’s money that has to be found from existing resources, which means £750,000 of cuts from somewhere else.

 [I don’t have the statistics on how many Court of Protection judgments there are a year, but those all have to be transcribed now too. ] 

 There’s also the harder to calculate figures  (a lawyer has to anonymise the judgment and arrange the transcription, invoices have to be drawn up and paid, everyone’s lawyer has to wrangle with the Legal Aid Agency about the costs each and every time,  the Judge has to check the judgment, someone has to arrange for the transcript to go up on Bailii, Bailii have to host probably ten thousand more family judgments a year than they are used to doing).  Oh, and of course, the basic law of economics that as demand increases about five-fold, the price is probably going to go up too.

Now, when the MoJ ran pilot schemes in five Courts, where all judgments were anonymised and published online for a year,  they calculated the administrative costs, if it were rolled out nationally to be £500,000 per year, pushing the costs back up above a million pounds.

This pilot was hardly a glowing endorsement for rolling the scheme out nationally, as you can tell by the fact it was published in 2010 and the scheme wasn’t rolled out nationally (until the President decided to do it this year).  In fact, the conclusion was that publishing judgments online was pretty much only useful for researchers and legal commentators; and that journalists and the parties didn’t think it had much value.  One of the few positives (because the transcripts were paid for by the Court) was Local Authorities who were pleased to be getting anonymised transcripts.

The tenor of the recommendations was that the statistical analysis of overall trends was far more useful, and to keep publishing anonymised judgments limited to either cases that had a value as a precedent or where one of the parties specifically sought publication.

 If you don’t want to read the full report on the pilot, then there’s a reasonable summary here:-

 Now, I’m not saying that transparency isn’t a good thing – I think that it is. Maybe it is a good enough thing to be paying over a million pounds a year for even in our straitened times of cuts and belt-tightening. I’d just like to see the cost-benefit analysis that shows that to do it this way is worthwhile, because the pilot study doesn’t.

[See also David Burrows excellent analysis of the fact that making the decision on an individual case to publish a judgment still requires an actual judicial balancing of article 10 and article 8
If you think I’m a stroppy swine, you need to read a bit of David’s blog. He’s only been doing it a week and he’s already threatened two judicial reviews…. The spirit of John Osborne is lurking nearby, taking notes for a new play named “Angrier Less-Young Man”]

About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

7 responses

  1. Small price to pay for piece of mind.

  2. You’re only looking at this under the cloud of one case one judgment, as we know all too well, that cloud has many fluffy bits.

    Take for example re. k which we all know too well that case had 5 very detailed judgments last being about the other 4 for the reporting of the said case.

    1st week of March I have back to back cases in the COA where no Judgment was handed down, not even in draft, so now due to that issue, from the need of just one Judgment we will end up with two which will inc. COA Judgment all though COA ones will be succinct.

    On my travels throughout the blogsphere I have commented steadfast on this, for the need to reduce costs and the cuts entrenched within streamlining the system, making it better than previously, it seems an oxymoron and flawed in that it costs more in the end like we see now.

    • If it makes you feel any better they have cut legal aid to the bone. In theory saving them millions of pounds in the process.

  3. tenor not tenure of the recommendations

    • Thank you Sally, am blushing and changing that.

      Matt, I think if the publication of all judgments would bring peace of mind, it MIGHT be worth the costs. But I’m not sure it will. If accompanying the publication, there’s funding for researchers to go through them all and analyse them then that might be beneficial. I’m not sure that the publication of judgments will change the mind of campaigning journalists (it didn’t in the C-section case, it didn’t with the Haigh case, it didn’t with the non-accidental injury case that Booker reported as being some small bruises when the issue was fractures)

      I would agree that for a responsible journalist, having a published judgment available to check against the story that you’ve been given will be helpful (but there remain problems about whether such judgments will be up in time for newsworthiness, and about whether a parent can even identify to a journalist that this particular case is about them)

      What MIGHT make a difference, and we simply won’t know until we try it, is that Judges might craft judgments so that they make sense to the general public (which might also help them make more sense to the parents who are hearing them) rather than as at the moment, them being largely written for the purpose of avoiding an appeal. If that happens, it would be an improvement. It MIGHT even produce different outcomes in some cases.

  4. Not to worry, the grieved, honest and bereaved parents can now publish them online (without children’s names) And actually they are better being put up by the parents who can also show that the Judgement was bad, wrong, corrupt , negligent etc by also putting the supporting paperwork up on line to prove their case. The wheels of justice may be slow to turn but turn they do eventually and LA’s refusal to acknowledge their mistakes are a ticking time bomb.

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