Disciplinary action against judges and magistrates has fallen slightly despite a significant rise in complaints about inappropriate behaviour or comments.
In its annual report for 2017/18 published today, the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office said 498 complaints were made about poor behaviour by office-holders – up 17% on the previous year. The JCIO removed 11 magistrates, two judges, four tribunal judges and two coroners in 2017/18. In a further 18 cases an office-holder was reprimanded, warned or given formal advice.
Of the 19 removals from office, 12 were dealt with under the summary process, meaning the lord chancellor and lord chief justice took the action without considering further investigation. Examples of this included where office-holders had criminal convictions, were bankrupt or had failed to meet sitting requirements without reasonable excuse.
As is standard in the annual report, there was no explanation of why individuals were removed where there had been a full investigation. It was confirmed that in two cases a complaint was not upheld by the lord chancellor and lord chief justice following an investigation.
The JCIO continues to be dogged by complaints about judicial decisions and case management, which is beyond its remit. The report said many complainants mistake the judicial discipline process as an ‘alternative method of appeal’: these types of complaints increased by 23% to more than 1,500 in 2017/18.
The JCIO saw performance levels drop across the board in 2017/18, with targets not met in two performance measures. The organisation aims to respond to complaints within two working days of receipt in 95% of cases, but managed it in 89%. More significantly, the JCIO issued its first substantive response within 15 days in just 66% of cases; the target was 85%.
The performance failures were blamed on a high turnover of staff. The report predicted that the office should return to normal staffing numbers soon.