The most qualified judges are wasting time on hearings that could be dealt with at a lower level, according to a senior judicial figure.

Sir Terence Etherton (pictured), chancellor of the High Court, said there needs to be further investment at the county court level to enable work to be filtered down.

Etherton told a conference in London this week that Court of Appeal and High Court judges are spending time on cases that should be handled by lower courts.

Earlier this week, new lord chancellor Michael Gove attacked the ‘waste and inefficiency inherent’ in the court system and said the case for reform was ‘overwhelming’.

Etherton said devolving matters from the higher courts will ‘inevitably’ involve investment in administrative and judicial resources.

‘A High Court judge is a valuable and expensive commodity; even more so a judge of the Court of Appeal,’ he said.

‘It is wasteful, inefficient and costly to deploy a higher level of judge than the case requires.’

He said waiting times for cases ‘up the ladder’ are longer than they should be because judges are wrongly allocated.

A significant proportion, he explained, of the work of the Court of Appeal comprises permission to appeal applications, first on paper and then with an online renewal, while High Court judges are also dealing with cases which ‘do not warrant their level of expertise’.

Etherton stressed the importance for the domestic economy in getting these matters right, with increasing competition for commercial work from New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Hague, Dubai and Qatar.

‘Cost-effectiveness and efficiency are critical,’ he said.

‘Such considerations may be decisive in attracting business and financial international work, which creates considerable wealth in this country, not just for lawyers but for allied professions, including accountants and actuaries, and the financial sector.’