And low morale isn’t helping
Lord Thomas, the country’s top judge, has used his annual report to parliament to highlight serious concerns over recruitment into the United Kingdom’s judiciary.
Citing in particular two recent rounds of recruitment for High Court judges failing to fill all the vacancies, Lord Thomas argued that, alongside the court system’s recently announced £700 million modernisation programme, “the judiciary itself demands attention”.
He reiterated that the impact of this recruitment problem on “the administration of justice and the position of the UK in international business litigation is potentially so serious” and stated that: “the matter is now extremely urgent.”
The Lord Chief Justice’s report did not pinpoint exactly what has caused the recruitment crisis but made links with low morale within the judiciary in the face of increased workloads (he specifically mentioned increases in areas such as asylum and immigration, family and the criminal division of the Court of Appeal).
He also cited judges’ pay “restraint”. A proposal to increase pay by 3% was refused earlier this year.
The top judge argued the Ministry of Justice’s modernisation programme, launched in September, should be an opportunity to provide judges with proper IT equipment and more modern buildings. He also suggested that there could be “specially trained staff (under judicial supervision) to undertake more routine work” which would ease some of the workload.
One issue which came up in his 2015 annual report was a proposal to try and have more “cross-deployment” of judges so that they can work in different courts and tribunals. This, it is argued, can alleviate spikes in cases as well as provide opportunities for career progression.
All in all, Lord Thomas said he would like to see “better support for judges … who have to deal with increasingly complex, difficult and, in some instances, unpleasant cases.” This is something he has touched on before in respect of the potential distress caused by hearing cases involving sexual violence.