While the government ponders whether to give senior members of the judiciary pay rises of up to 32% to boost morale, judges who hear traumatic cases will soon be able to receive support before, during and after proceedings.
Earlier this month Labour MP and criminal barrister Yasmin Qureshi asked the Ministry of Justice in a written question what assessment had been made of the rising caseload of judges on their mental wellbeing.
Justice minister Lucy Frazer, responding on Wednesday, said the welfare, training and guidance of the judiciary of England and Wales is the responsibility of the lord chief justice and the senior president of tribunals.
'Senior and leadership judges recognise their responsibilities to consider the welfare and wellbeing of their colleagues,' said Frazer. 'Decisions on deployment and resourcing operate alongside an established health and welfare framework that provides a structure and clear processes to be followed in recognising and responding to stress,' the justice minister said.
The framework includes a confidential helpline which salaried and fee-paid judges, and magistrates' bench chairs, can access 24 hours a day, every day. The helpline, which the judiciary confirmed to the Gazette has been around for a while, offers practical and emotional support from trained personnel, including face-to-face counselling if appropriate.
Judicial office holders can also access a new e-learning package on managing stress and building resilience, Frazer said.
The judiciary confirmed that the support service will be rolled out shortly. Last year the lord chief justice told a press conference that the senior judiciary was 'very conscious' of judges who spend a lot of time dealing with harrowing family cases and have to deal with a 'fairly relentless diet of serious sex cases'.
Lord Burnett of Maldon told reporters: 'I suppose judges are fairly self-contained individuals, perhaps inevitably given that they come from the legal profession where people tend to be quite self-contained. But none of us are invulnerable to the effects of the materials that we see in the course of our professional lives and even as an appellant judge sitting in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, there are some pretty shocking material that comes across our desks and which we have to take into account to be able to determine the cases before us. So, it is important that we recognise that judges are human and that we put in place support mechanisms to assist those who need it.'
A judicial attitudes survey conducted in 2016 found that more than 40% of senior judges intended to quit early, reflecting widespread disenchantment on the bench about deteriorating working conditions. Respondents depicted a judicial environment dogged by low morale, crumbling buildings, personal safety concerns, pay and pension cuts, and a mounting workload.