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Supreme Court

Volume 688: debated on Tuesday 23 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What will be the total cost of establishing the new Supreme Court in the Middlesex Guildhall, including costs already incurred, and the eventual cost of creating seven new courtrooms elsewhere in central London to replace those currently in the guildhall.

My Lords, the capital construction costs for Middlesex Guildhall remain within the estimate of £30 million, at 2004 prices. The capital construction costs for the redevelopment of the Crown Courts at Isleworth remain in the region of £18.2 million, at 2006 prices. In addition to the capital construction costs, further costs will be incurred, such as DCA professional adviser fees, the project team costs and the non-capital element of the fit-out costs, including loose furniture, IT services and library books, as identified in my Written Ministerial Statement on 17 October 2006. Spend to date on both projects has been £5.9 million capital and £1.8 million resource. I will provide further information on reaching closure with the preferred bidders, which are Kier Group plc for the Middlesex Guildhall and Geoffrey Osborne Building Limited for Isleworth. I apologise for the length of that Answer.

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. Will he recognise, even at this late stage, that the removal of the Law Lords to the Middlesex Guildhall to do exactly the same job as they are doing at the moment is a complete waste of public money? What useful purpose will it serve? Will he confirm that the bulk of the money will come not from his own department or the Treasury, as it should, but from a levy on members of the public seeking justice in the lower courts? How can he defend that decision?

My Lords, Parliament debated the question whether we should have a Supreme Court and the matter was passed by both Houses. Instead of seeking to redebate an issue on which Parliament has made a firm decision, we should work together to get the best possible Supreme Court. Civil litigation incurs fees, and some of those fees will contribute to the costs.

My Lords, in estimating the cost of converting the Middlesex Guildhall, has my noble and learned friend taken fully into account the fact that the building by James Gibson is listed Grade 2 starred and that English Heritage considers its interiors to be unsurpassed by any courtroom of its period in the quality and completeness of their fittings? While I have no doubt that Feilden and Mawson will handle the brief with appropriate sensitivity if the project goes ahead, what assurance can my noble and learned friend give that the quality of what is installed will be as fine as the quality of what is removed?

My Lords, we are very conscious of the importance of the interiors of the Middlesex Guildhall and, in particular, the court furniture, which my noble friend rightly identifies as being among the best of its kind. Before the local authority gave planning permission it was extremely concerned that appropriate homes should be found for the exquisite court furniture. That has been done—and only once it had been done was final planning permission given.

As to what the building will look like after it has been completed and the interiors have been done, I very much recommend that noble Lords look at the work done by Feilden and Mawson and see its extremely high quality. Although there is exquisite court furniture in Middlesex Guildhall, it might be said not to be looking at its best on the inside if noble Lords were to visit it now.

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that in the most recent accounts of the House, the costs recorded of the judicial activities in the House, excluding Law Lords’ salaries, were less than £200,000 for the year and that the interest costs, let alone the capital costs, for the Middlesex Guildhall will be 12 or 15 times higher than that? Are not the costs of this House, as the report of accounts states,

“outside HM Treasury’s administration costs control regime”,

whereas the costs that will be incurred in the new premises will be much more closely supervised by the Treasury? Therefore, apart from being higher, are they not likely to generate even higher charges for litigants who go to the court?

My Lords, once again, this is going back over issues that were fully debated at the time. Parliament, having heard all of these issues, concluded that we should have a Supreme Court. The reason why it is worth having a Supreme Court is that there should be a separate and identifiable court at the apex of the judicial system and that we should separate the legislature from the courts.

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that judges should not be legislators and legislators should not be judges? Having taken the decision in 2005 to get rid of the archaic anomaly of the highest court in this land being technically a committee of your Lordships’ House, would it not be ludicrous now to revoke that decision?

My Lords, is it correct, as reported in today’s Times, that magistrates are faced with a 3.5 per cent annual cut in their court costs, year on year, over the next three years? Is it not grotesque to be spending these moneys on this unnecessary court building and its consequent replacement court buildings rather than providing a proper court service for everyday users?

My Lords, no, I disagree with that entirely. Since 1997, expenditure on the Crown Courts, according to an independent survey, has increased by 116 per cent. In order to accommodate the fact that there will no longer be seven courts at Middlesex Guildhall, additional courts are to be built at Isleworth. The one group that will not suffer is the Crown Courts.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has some experience of rising costs, as he will remember from his time as Minister in charge of the Dome. He has just quoted a figure of £30 million at 2004 prices. In an answer given to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway last year, he quoted a figure of £35 million, which strikes me as being considerably above the rate of inflation that his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer quotes. Is the noble and learned Lord right or is the Chancellor of the Exchequer right in terms of the rate of inflation between 2004 and 2006?

My Lords, the figures I have given have always been based on 2004 prices; they are consistent. In relation to the mention of the Dome, imagine what I have learnt from that experience.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord agreed with every word that fell from the lips of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. Is he not aware that there are part-time judges sitting as legislators in this House?

My Lords, there are, and that is part of what they do, but the principle referred to by the noble Lord was separating full-time judges from the legislature. That is plainly right as a matter of principle.