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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”]