Dilapidated court buildings are fuelling bench recruitment crisis, says lord chief justice

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Sep 08, 2017
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Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said that poor working conditions and pay were putting lawyers off applying for the bench

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England’s most senior judge has said that “significant difficulties” remain in recruiting to the judiciary, particularly at the senior levels.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the lord chief justice, said that the condition of court buildings, workload and pay were among issues causing a “serious loss of morale” across the judicial ranks. 

“The Judicial Executive Board [the senior judges] continues to be immensely concerned about these findings and is doing all it can to address the issues,” he wrote in his final annual report before stepping down. 

The Senior Salaries Review Body is looking at pay and pensions, he said, adding that: “Any failure to address the problems of pay and pensions will have a serious impact on morale and on recruitment.”

Lord Thomas said that work was underway to improve the “dilapidated state” of many court buildings, with IT systems being brought up to date to help judges manage their workload. The courts and tribunals modernisation programme is also expected to improvements the state of the buildings. 

“There is a significant number of courts in a very poor condition, requiring immediate maintenance work,” Lord Thomas said. “The upkeep of court estate is vital to ensure access to justice, respect for the administration of justice and the safety and wellbeing of the judiciary, staff and users.”

‘Brexit made my final year the most difficult’

Lord Thomas’s last year in office has been his most difficult because of Brexit, he said in his report.

He described negotiations with the European Union and the legislative aspects of Britain’s departure as “one of the most complex and difficult issues our country has faced in peacetime”.

The judiciary will help, where it can, to ensure that the government and parliament are aware of the practical implications for the courts and for legal services, as negotiations continue the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill passes through parliament.

However, Lord Thomas said that the “false perceptions of uncertainty caused by Brexit” were being countered and the “pre-eminence of London as a leading centre for international dispute centre is being maintained”.

He also highlighted the need to improve judicial diversity. There was “much to be done,” he said, to improve the recruitment of both women and ethnic minority lawyers to the bench.

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