There are clear issues of concern around morale of judges, the lord chief justice has said in his annual report.
Lord Thomas identified that morale in the judiciary is a “very important issue”. However, he said fellow judges feel that the burdens of work imposed on them have increased with them having to handle “an ever-increasing quantity of challenging and emotionally-charged cases in family and crime, as well as an increase in litigants in person”.
“Although judges recognise that they are well-paid in comparison to most people, static pay (in real terms, reduced pay) and adverse alterations to pension arrangements (particularly for more recently appointed judges) have had a significant impact. In addition, there has, overall, been a widespread feeling of not being valued or appreciated for their work,” the report said.
The Lord Chief Justice said the judiciary was both “delighted and extremely grateful” for the £738 million to modernise the courts and tribunal system that the chancellor announced in his Autumn Statement.
In making the case for investment several issues were highlighted:
- The need to explain publicly the importance of the judicial system in maintaining a just and fair society, accountable and democratic government and a strong economy.
- Outdated IT systems severely impede the delivery of justice. For example, the reforms to civil justice which were intended to implement the report of Lord Woolf were introduced in April 1999 only on the promise of modern IT; none was ever provided.
- The system of justice has become unaffordable to most. In consequence there has been a considerable increase of litigants in person for whom our current court system is not really designed.
The continuing reduction in resources to the courts has had a serious impact with civil and family law cases and tribunals using computer programmes designed in the 1980s and 1990s.
Proposed changes include electronic filing and case management, closure of courts and shared buildings and case officers to take on routine jobs of judges.
“The delivery of the reform programme will require and enable us to tackle these and a number of other issues. Although the judiciary does not underestimate the substantial and difficult task ahead, we are encouraged by the successful piloting both of the digital case system in criminal cases in the Crown Court and of the e-judiciary programme for judges,” he added.