Learning from other jurisdictions was a key theme of the lady chief justice’s first annual press conference. Open justice, diversity and broadcasting court proceedings also cropped up

Our first lady chief justice gave her inaugural annual press conference at the Royal Courts of Justice this week, setting our her priorities and answering questions on transparency, diversity, court backlogs and filming criminal proceedings.

Baroness Carr, who took over as head of the judiciary last October, began by praising her colleagues, saying her ‘biggest asset is my judges’. She added: ‘They are extraordinary, they work in extremely difficult conditions, they work tirelessly, and they are committed to serving the public and the rule of law. That is a very special thing and you see that every day when you go out and about visiting courts.’

Asked about timeliness and cutting the case backlog, the LCJ referred to the One Judiciary initiative, the principal aim of which is to bring courts and tribunals closer together to make better use of resources. ‘Listing in the ether’ via the use of ‘virtual regions’ could be one way to optimise timetables and cut the backlog, she said.  

‘At the heart of One Judiciary is learning best practice from other jurisdictions. A very good example is something the tribunals have done [which] is the introduction of what we call virtual regions, which means listing in the ether and not linked to a particular physical court. What that means is [the case] can go into the virtual region and any court, any tribunal in England and Wales, can [then] deal with that particular case. Obviously that speeds things up, because you are not tied to a particular court that may be under pressure.

‘Learning from other jurisdictions is something we have not been doing enough of. I think it is something One Judiciary will really promote and improve.’

'We can’t do anything that jeopardises the administration of justice and there are, in that context, real difficulties about filming witnesses, for example. But I am very interested in extending filming to a wider cohort of judges'

Baroness Carr

On open justice, the LCJ hailed as a success the family transparency pilot, which this year was extended to 16 courts. She said: ‘I don’t think 10 or 20 years ago we would ever have imagined… reporting in family courts, would we?’

As well as cross-jurisdictional working, the LCJ said she had ‘looked quite hard’ at Scotland, which has more liberal rules on broadcasting criminal trials. In his final speech as LCJ last September, her predecessor Lord Burnett said the ‘success’ of broadcast sentencing in serious criminal cases provided a ‘strong argument that we need to go further’ in allowing the cameras in.

Carr added: ‘I am absolutely committed to looking at extending the current rules on broadcasting. We know the sanctity of the administration of justice is first and foremost. We can’t do anything that jeopardises the administration of justice and there are, in that context, real difficulties about filming witnesses, for example. But I am very interested in extending filming to a wider cohort of judges than is the case currently.

‘I’m also really interested in looking at extending filming across more jurisdictions at first instance.’

Discussing diversity in the judiciary, which the LCJ stressed also extends to socioeconomic factors as well as race and gender, Baroness Carr said: ‘Diversity is a day job, we have got a lot to do. We are doing well in terms of solicitors, and quite well in terms of gender.

‘Over half our tribunal judges are solicitors by background. We are doing much better with women, certainly up to the higher levels. We are making progress with certain ethnic minorities. We are not making enough progress when it comes to black people in particular. We do not have enough black judges and that is a priority for me to look at this year. Also disabled judges – that is something I do not think we have looked at sufficiently in the past. Those are two of our focus areas under our strategy for this year.

‘I think it a really pressing area. We are doing so much in the space. We have fantastic diversity and community relation judges. We are really trying but still not getting sufficient results.’

When asked about helping to make the courts estate more accessible, Baroness Carr revealed ‘one of the first things’ she had done in her role was to take the route a wheelchair user is required to follow from the RCJ car park into court. She believes this to be more onerous than it should be.

She said: ‘The problem is money to make these changes, it is something we have not talked about enough.’

Concluding the Q&A session, the LCJ said: ‘What I will do is defend the rule of law. I see that as being my job.’