Delegating more judicial duties to court staff is expected to save almost £6m a year, government documents have revealed. An impact assessment published this week alongside the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill showed HM Courts & Tribunals Service will secure benefits worth £13.7m from widening the role of authorised court staff.
Employees will take on tasks previously completed by the judiciary, such as case progression work and case management, in the Crown Court, civil jurisdiction, family jurisdiction and tribunals.
Additional costs are estimated at £7.9m from training staff, leaving net benefits of £5.8m.
The legislation was given first reading in the House of Lords this week and is expected to be the first of several law changes facilitating the £1bn courts modernisation programme due to be completed by 2022.
Responding to one query on Twitter, HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood said: ‘Judges will be the ones deciding what it’s appropriate for authorised staff to do - this is about helping them, not replacing them.’
The document suggests the bill will ‘remove the post of justices’ clerk from statute’, although it is unclear whether this will result in clerks’ roles disappearing altogether.
Rules committees will determine which functions authorised staff can undertake, and statutory independence restrictions will apply to them.
The principal rationale for the measures is efficiency, with judges and magistrates freed up to focus on more complex matters.
The bill itself confirms that the lord chancellor will prescribe what qualifications are required by authorised court staff, with the agreement of the lord chief justice. A member of HMCTS staff will be able to carry out judicial functions only once authorised to do so by the lord chief justice or senior president of tribunals.
Some authorised staff would be required to make decisions using an understanding of legal issues and reliable legal judgement, underpinned by legal research, which would be expected of a professional lawyer.
These functions would be specific to particular jurisdictions, requiring staff with legal training and qualifications and/or close supervision by the judiciary. Some authorised staff would provide legal advice to lay justices in the magistrates’ courts and the family court, a role currently undertaken by justices’ clerks and their assistants.