An appeal court judge has hit out at the ‘striking’ level of cuts in the resourcing of courts and tribunals, claiming staff departures have led to a ‘painful loss of knowledge’.

Speaking at the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association Conference in Guyana, Sir Peter Gross (picture) said HM Courts & Tribunals Service had lost around 5,000 of 22,000 staff since 2010.

‘It is simplistic to regard all reductions as “bad” - some are inevitable and some are “good” - but there has been a painful loss of institutional knowledge flowing from the departure of some very experienced managers and the downgrading of some posts,’ Gross said.

‘Against this background of years of salami-sliced reductions in resources, it has been apparent that strategic reform was an imperative,’ said Gross, adding that the ‘only alternative was decline’.

Online court proposals outlined in the government’s ‘Transforming our Justice System’ consultation will mean further upheaval, but Gross pointed to the need for a ‘smaller but improved estate’.

‘We must maintain what we retain,’ he added. ‘This is not an exercise in squashing judges into less space; we will have to invest in an upgraded estate, fit for purpose in a digital age. We can use the space freed up by losing mountains of paper.

‘There is no gainsaying that a good number of jobs will be lost: if there is no paper to shift, you do not need employees to shift it. But, importantly, there will also be a need for higher-grade staff.

‘If we are to be digital by default, it is essential that the IT works can be rapidly repaired when, inevitably, there are breakdowns.’

Gross was speaking on 19 September, though his speech was published today.