Judges’ problems go way beyond cuts to their pensions.
A recent comprehensive study of judicial attitudes has uncovered a poor state of morale among judges.
For many lawyers, who feel the pressures they face are far greater than anything the guys on the bench have to put up with, it will be tempting to say – so what?
But actually, if – as the survey suggests – only 2% of judges feel valued by the government, and almost all of them feel their working conditions have ‘worsened’ in recent years, then that is bad news for everyone, including the lawyers that appear before them, and especially their clients.
Why are judges so disillusioned? Most obviously, their pay has come under pressure, and they have seen unwelcome reform of their pensions. But becoming a judge has never been all about money, and many judges earned a lot more when they were barristers in private practice.
Then there is the perception of judges. The survey showed that only 4% of the judiciary feel valued ‘by the media’ – and it’s true that judges seem to fare little better than lawyers in the harsh red-top and Daily Mail world. As lawyers will know, the constant media-bashing starts to grind you down after a while.
Then there are the working conditions – and here, judges and lawyers have common cause in that they are been driven to distraction by many of the same problems: lack of proper functioning court IT; lack of available court staff; poor facilities that make it harder to actually get the job done.
And what about the job itself? Probably the number one biggest challenge has been the explosion in number of litigants in person – which is as frustrating for judges as it is for lawyers. One would hope that judges treat every individual litigant with appropriate respect and consideration.
But there must be considerable private frustration of having to explain, time and again, the basics of procedure – and seeing one’s court timetable filling up with the type of case that, had a lawyer been consulted at the outset, would never have been brought, or would have settled early on. What a tremendous waste of resources that are so badly needed.
As if all this is not enough, you then have the final nail in the coffin: budgeting. Most judges join the bench because they are inspired by the notion of doing justice between the parties. They didn’t become judges so that they can spend hours looking at how much the lawyers are getting paid in a given case.
Budgeting has now brought costs centre stage, and for many, this is not a particularly appealing development.
It is hard to see many of these problems going away any time soon. But at least money has been earmarked to improve courts IT; and in terms of budgeting, let’s hope that – eventually – greater familiarity may breed less contempt.
Rachel Rothwell is editor of Litigation Funding magazine