THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE’S REPORT 2018: SELECTED EXTRACTS

The Lord Chief Justice’s Report for 2018 is available if you follow the link here. Much of it is important.  I have selected extracts that may be of particular interest to litigators.  (There is an argument that some key indicators that interest litigators on the ground are missing. How many people have turned up at court expecting a trial and been sent away?  Why are there major backlogs in some civil courts?  What is the average time for an appeal reaching the Court of Appeal?  Are the courts making a profit with the vastly exorbitant court fees that are now being charged? Why do some courts keep flooding?)

EXTRACTS FROM THE REPORT

Morale

I view the low levels of morale within the judiciary with considerable concern. The poor state of many of our buildings is a contributing factor. So too is the increasing workload in most jurisdictions, and the reduction and high turnover of staff. With the Judicial Executive Board and the Judicial Office, I have been working to engage with judges at all levels and have put in place changes designed to improve morale. Importantly, we have involved judges directly in the development of the modernisation programme and worked hard with Government on the underlying causes of the difficulties we have faced in recruitment.

 

Recruitment

The well-publicised impossibility in filling vacancies in the High Court represents the tip of the iceberg. There is a need to recruit unprecedented numbers of judges over the next couple of years, including through several large-scale recruitment exercises. The JAC continues to maintain its high standards and the judiciary has become more diverse in age, background, gender and ethnicity. But action must be taken to resolve the fundamental problems identified by the SSRB in its recently published report1. I welcome Government’s commitment to consider what changes might be made to the judicial remuneration package to address the particular issues highlighted by that report. Solving this problem quickly is vital to maintaining a respected and effective judiciary, so fundamental to the rule of law and to the vitality of the legal services sector.

Promoting the role of judges to the public

I remain concerned that for too many, their impression of the judiciary is informed by outdated media stereotypes which ignore the work done by thousands of salaried and feepaid judges. A slow but steady process of widening understanding is underway, which we will build on over the coming year
A worrying number of positions in the High Court and Circuit Bench remain unfilled. While the impact on other levels of the judiciary is not yet clear, the senior judiciary are actively monitoring the situation and working closely with the Judicial Appointments Commission to improve the selection process, including a streamlined application scheme for appointments to the High Court. The intention is that the scheme should be echoed in the next deputy High Court Judge competition. The success of other changes that have been made to the recruitment process will be considered in 2019, at the conclusion of a number of large scale recruitment campaigns.

Civil Justice

County Court claims have been increasing, with money claims rising by 21% in 2016/17 and a further 12% in 2017/18. This has led to an increase in the number of cases proceeding to a full hearing and coupled with shortages in civil judicial resources, there has been an adverse impact on the timeliness of cases being determined. Many judges who sit in the County Court also sit in the Family Court, which has its own pressures. A shortage of fee-paid judges has added to the difficulties. Significant recruitment of Recorders to sit in Civil, and of Deputy District Judges, is underway.
Judges have been balancing the pressures resulting from business as usual demands with helping to support and design reforms to the civil courts and wider civil justice system. The civil judiciary have been playing a critical role in the development of Online Civil Money Claims, which has produced encouraging early results in terms of take-up, accessibility and user satisfaction levels.

Court of Appeal (Civil Division)

After years of relentless growth of the number of cases coming to the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) – 2,694 in 2009/10 to 4,770 in 2015/16 – the volume of applications for permission to appeal fell to 3,008 in 2017/18. This was largely driven by the fall in such applications in immigration and asylum cases, which was associated with a change in the rules to dispense with a near-automatic right to an oral hearing of a renewed application after refusal on paper. That procedure built in substantial delay.
Whilst there was also a reduction in the total number of disposals, this must be weighed against a backdrop of increasing case complexity, with appeal hearing times continuing to increase. Even with this increase in complexity, the number of appeal disposals outstripped applications for the first time in the ten years with comparable records. This has had the consequence of reducing the average time from application to disposal, improving access to justice.