‘Boom and bust’ cycles of immigration and asylum chamber work are causing increasing problems for judges, the chamber's president has admitted.
Judge Michael Clements said outstanding caseload in the chamber grew from 43,643 in June 2014 to 52,991 last summer.
This led to ‘unacceptable delays’ in listing in the third quarter of 2015 with subsequent impacts on court users.
He also revealed the number of salaried judges in post in the tribunal has reduced from 152 in 2005 to 94 as of October 2015, through a mixture of retirements and resignations.
Clements’ statement appears in the annual tribunals report by senior president Sir Ernest Ryder (pictured).
Ryder said overall his impression was that morale was still high among judicial office holders, but Clements’ update suggests specific problems in the immigration and asylum chamber (FtTIAC).
‘Workload fluctuations in FtTIAC have brought with them unfortunate “boom and bust” cycles which are unpredictable in length and frequency,’ said Clements.
‘This leads to frustrations for both judges and administration with an understandable impact on morale especially amongst the fee-paid judges where lack of sittings leads to de-skilling large numbers of expensively trained judges.
‘It cannot be denied that these fluctuating cycles are a serious problem which must be acknowledged.’
Clements said he is working with administrative colleagues and Ryder to produce a more even workflow and improve efficiency. More concrete announcements on this are due in the near future, although Clements said the issue of delays has already been addressed by offering further court hearings.
Ryder said his experience of meeting some of the 5,500 judicial office holders across the tribunal structure showed morale was higher than many would assume.
He acknowledged that tribunals reforms, along with judicial pay restraint, budget cuts and changes to pensions, meant it came as ‘no surprise’ that morale is an issue.
‘But the image of low morale has not been my experience from my visits across the country,’ added Ryder.
‘Rather, the enthusiasm shown for reform, with judges involved in innovation and the development of good practice, as well as for the delivery of justice in the here and now, has been inspiring.’
Litigants in person, he explained, have become the ‘norm’ at tribunals, with the relative informality of proceedings and a more inquisitorial approach designed to make the process more comfortable for people.
This practice will be shared with colleagues in civil and family courts, while innovation will also be considered to offer greater benefit to those pursuing a claim without legal representation.