What Price Civil Justice?



The Twenty-ninth Wincott Memorial Lecture delivered on 14th October 1999. Includes a forward by Geoffrey Owen.

Markets and Morality
In this Hobart Paper, Professors Brian Main and Sir Alan Peacock – two distinguished economists with interests in legal issues – use economic principles to great effect in exploring the efficiency of the civil justice system and ways in which a more innovative regime might be introduced.

Executive Summary

In Britain the costs of justice – to taxpayers and litigants – have been rising faster than GDP.

For efficiency reasons and to encourage innovation, reform is required and some action is already underway.

But reform is complicated because ‘justice’ is a complex product – bought on ‘trust’ by many consumers and with precedent and spillover effects.

Some good ideas for reform are already in circulation. But there is a case for experimentation rather than trying to work out in advance which ideas should be implemented.

Market forces should have a bigger role in the civil justice system and there should be more competition in the provision of dispute resolution services.

Probable features of a reformed judicial system would be competitive tendering, better information for clients about alternative ways of proceeding and more power for trial judges to control the passage of a case.

The supply of judges also needs to be addressed: court fees could be determined by market forces and the proceeds ploughed back into judicial capacity.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures allow parties a choice of jurisdictions.

ADR produces precedents, to the extent they are required, and does not need the threat of litigation in the background.

A big advantage of ADR is that it avoids monopolized law which otherwise tends to produce inflexibility, bad rules and politicization.

2000, Hobart Papers 139, ISBN 978 0 255 36429 4, 96pp, PB