The trial of gold medal winning paralympian Oscar Pistorius in South Africa has raised concerns over increased televising of the courts, the lord chief justice has said.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd told the House of Lords constitution committee yesterday that despite one technical hitch, televising limited proceedings has ‘worked very well’ but ‘the Pistorius trial has troubled me’.
Before taking a decision on expanding televised proceedings, Thomas said he wanted an ‘evidence-based assessment of what’s happened elsewhere’.
Thomas voiced concern over youth sentencing, which he said required a ‘proper and objective’ review. In particular, he said there is a ‘major problem’ with knife crime that urgently required controlling.
Questioned over his support for a more inquisitorial system in family and other civil cases, Thomas said: ‘The adversarial system doesn’t work if you take away legal aid.’
Rowing back from legal aid, he said, was a political decision and the market has not operated to bring down the cost of lawyers.
A more inquisitorial system, he stressed, would not work for criminal cases or more serious litigation, but for small level civil work and ‘of necessity’ family work, it is the ‘only way to deliver justice’.
He insisted it would not ‘imperil’ a judge's impartiality and said it did not have the effect of a judge ‘entering the arena’.
Reiterating the judiciary’s concern over the removal of legal aid for judicial review, Thomas said it would be ‘greatly regrettable’ if the challenge mechanism was diminished.
While judicial review has been painted as a means of obtaining delay, especially in immigration and planning cases, he said this has been tackled by the transfer of immigration cases to the tribunal and the creation of a planning court as well as the introduction of a ‘without merit’ procedure to throw out hopeless cases.
Liberal Democrat peer Lady Falkner of Margravine expressed concern over ‘slow-burn’ efforts to increase the diversity of the judiciary. She offered the ‘radical’ solution of a career judiciary as the ‘only real answer’.
Thomas accepted that the hoped for progress of change had not happened and agreed there is ‘undoubtedly a problem’. But he said moving to a career judiciary would be a ‘huge step’ that would need careful reflection on the consequences.
He suggested that legal advisers should be given more responsibility before being encouraged to apply for judicial office, as there are higher numbers of women among their ranks.
Part-time judicial working would also help, but he stressed it should be used only to promote diversity, not to ease people into retirement.