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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

06 OCT 2011

Sandra Davis' Week: The price of justice

Sandra DavisThe BBC reported last Friday on the latest round of court closures in Shropshire as part of the Ministry of Justice's rationalisation drive that will see up to 142 courts closed in England & Wales. The recent closure of Market Drayton, Ludlow and Oswestry Magistrates' courts and Ludlow and Shrewsbury County Courts will save, the Ministry of Justice claims, £300,000 each year. The business of the closed courts is being transferred to Telford County Court.

Meanwhile, this week saw the start of the trial of Boris Berezovsky's claim for £3.5bn in damages from Roman Abramovich. The action turns on the circumstances in which Berezovsky transferred shares in two Russian companies, "Sibneft" and "Rusal", to Abramovich.

The Abramovich case is being heard by Mrs Justice Gloster sitting in Court 26 of the Rolls Building of the Commercial Court. Both parties have retained a formidable legal team for the litigation which is apparently set to last for three months.

The costs of the litigation are staggering. Earlier this year The Lawyer reported speculation that Abramovich's lead counsel, Jonathan Sumption QC, had collected a brief fee of somewhere between £3 and £10m. Add to that the cost of the other leaders, juniors and solicitors involved and the direct legal spend on the action is likely to top £50m. Then of course there is the hefty expense incurred by the Court Service in providing a High Court Judge and fully staffed court for the next 12 weeks.

What links these two stories is that the overriding objective in all family and civil litigation includes the requirement for "an appropriate share of the court's resources [to be allotted to each case] while taking into account the need to allot resources to other cases".

Of course the issues raised in the Abramovich case are a world removed from the business that is conducted every day in magistrates and county courts across the country. That is not to say though, that the issues being litigated in the Commercial Court are any more or less important to the individuals involved than the cases brought by the users of the 142 soon to be defunct courts.

Perhaps the time is now right for the Ministry of Justice to consider raising a means tested, tax deductable levy from litigants whose trial length exceeds one week. This seems to me an attractive alternative to the mass closure of courts across the country.

Sandra Davis is a Partner and Head of Family at Mishcon de Reya. She is a member of the firm's management board, a Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the author of International Child Abduction (Sweet & Maxwell, 1993) and a member of the Lord Chancellor's Child Abduction Panel. In 2009 she was shortlisted in the Citywealth Magic Circle Awards as a Leading Lawyer.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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