Peers sound alarm over plummeting judicial morale
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Poor working conditions for judges and changes over their pensions are having a damaging effect on recruitment efforts and morale, a House of Lords committee has said.
The constitution committee says it is “deeply concerned” that the “dilapidated state” of some courts, administrative burdens, under-resourcing and the continuing dispute over pensions are having a detrimental effect on retaining and recruiting judges.
It also says judges must be free from abuse and media attacks, a reference to the “enemies of the people” slurs that followed the ruling that parliament must approve the triggering of Brexit.
The lord chancellor has a constitutional duty to defend the independence of the judiciary but this does not impinge on the right of the press to criticise court judgments, it says.
The committee called for steps to be taken to improve diversity, including encouraging more solicitors to apply for the bench, enabling chartered legal executives who become district judges to apply for senior judicial posts and removing some of the obstacles faced by government lawyers who want to be judges.
It also recommends that the present fixed retirement age of 70 for judges be reconsidered, reflecting recent calls to allow judges to stay in post until they are 75.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton, the committee’s chairwoman, said that she and her colleagues had found that “an alarming number of factors are currently affecting recruitment to the bench, and we are deeply concerned about the impact they are having on the retention of current judges and the attractiveness of the judiciary as a career for potential applicants.
“To maintain our gold standard legal system we need the best and brightest candidates coming forward for judicial appointment.”
She added that “the committee is concerned about the lack of diversity on the bench. It is disappointing that progress on diversity has been limited since our last report, as it is important for both the health and the perception of our legal system that we have a judiciary that is representative of the society it serves”.