The lord chief justice has acknowledged serious failings in the justice system - but assured judges that efforts are being made to turn the tide. Lord Burnett of Maldon told the Association of District Judges that issues around resources have contributed to an ‘attrition of judicial morale’, and he insisted he would press government for improvements.
Burnett also said the situation has already started to get better, particularly with regards to balance of work, sitting arrangements, maintenance of buildings and recruitment of fee-paid judges.
‘Your workload continues to grow and grow. Family law cases for example have seen double digit percentage increases year after year. The number of judges has not. And nor of course has pay,’ he said. ‘As your workload has grown, the number of staff supporting you has shrunk. They and you are grappling with outdated paper based systems.’
Burnett said district judges will soon enjoy greater variety of work, greater opportunities to train, learn and develop skills and a stronger base for which to rise up the judicial ladder.
The Judicial Appointments Commission is now seeking 303 deputy district judges, he stated, and the judiciary is starting to replenish the number of fee-paid judges.
Those seeking greater central government funding risked wishing themselves ‘back into some mythical bygone era of plenty’, he said, so the aims will be to improve efficicency of administration of justice, improve access to justice and improve the conditions for those who use and work in court.
Part of that will be achieved through online justice schemes: since last July 1,500 people have requested links to the online divorce pilot, with the new process taking applicants 25 minutes to complete. The new online court for civil money claims went live before Easter and was used 700 times in the first week, with Burnett giving the example of a claim lodged online at 2.02pm on Maundy Thursday and paid by 4pm.
The LCJ added: ‘Digitisation will not only reduce your and HMCTS’s workload, freeing you from the tyranny of paper, but it will enable claims to be progressed more easily, cheaply and speedily, ensuring better access to high quality justice.’