Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for April 2021

Misperceptions of ‘deregulation’

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Another excellent thought piece from Stephen Mayson, highlighting the challenge of ensuring that professional regulators can drive effective change and innovation in the delivery of legal services.

StephenMayson

Last month, Boston Consulting Group published a report that claimed to assess the effects of deregulating legal services in England & Wales, as driven by the Legal Services Act 2007. The analysis and conclusions are, to put it at its best, disappointing. I am grateful to have been spared the need to offer a detailed review, thanks to this informed critique of the report by Alison Hook.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that the report’s authors based some of their work on my independent review (Legal Services Reform: Regulation Beyond the Echo Chambers, published last year). However, having done so, their report could encourage others to take my principal conclusion – that further reform is needed – and, contrary to my intention, use it to amplify the echo within the chambers of my title.

These, therefore, are my summary observations:

First, I have…

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Written by lwtmp

April 13, 2021 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Mandatory retirement age for judges

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For a number of years, concern has grown about the ability of the courts’ system to recruit judges, particular to the most senior positions in the High Court. One obvious idea, which gained considerable traction in 2020, was that the mandatory retirement age (MRA) for judges, set some years ago at 70, should be increased.

In July 2020, the Government launched a consultation on whether this would be a good idea, and if so what any new age limit should be. The results of this consultation are now in and were published in March 2021.

The Government has now decided that it will increase the MRA to 75, thereby putting the MRA back to the level it was some 20 years ago when the present MRA was introduced.

It might have been thought that this change could be made relatively straightforwardly, but in fact statutory amendment is required. In the familiar phrase used on these occasions, this will happen ‘when parliamentary time allows’.

This is often seen as pushing the required change into some indeterminate future date. My hunch is that, in this context, there is a degree of urgency. I doubt whether there will be a separate Act of Parliament on the point. But it would not surprise me if a clause was inserted in an appropriate Bill going through Parliament in the near future.

The consultation and the Government’s response are available at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-judicial-mandatory-retirement-age

Written by lwtmp

April 12, 2021 at 12:46 pm

What do judges think about their job?

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The UK Judicial Attitude Survey is a longitudinal survey conducted by Prof Cheryl Thomas of the University College London Judicial Institute. It covers all serving salaried judges in England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It assesses judges’ views and experiences of their working lives over time. The results of the 3rd JAS were published in February 2021; earlier surveys were published in 2016 and 2014. With close to 100% participation over 6 years, this report provides a reliable assessment of judicial attitudes to their working lives and how they may have changed over this time period. The following note, which I have adapted from the Executive Summary, sets out the headline findings.

1 General feelings

Virtually all judges feel they provide an important service to society and have a strong personal attachment to being a member of the judiciary. They have a deep commitment to their job.

While judges feel most valued by their judicial colleagues at court, court staff, the legal profession and parties in cases, only two thirds feel valued by the public. Very few judges feel valued by the Government (9%) or the media (12%), and no judges feel greatly valued by the Government or media.

2 Working conditions

A majority of judges said that working conditions were worse than they were two years ago,

The courts judiciary feels working conditions have deteriorated more in the last two years than do judges in UK tribunals.

A majority of judges rated the following as Good or Excellent: security at court, quality of administrative support and physical quality of judges’ personal work space. One working condition rated Poor by a majority of judges was the morale of court and tribunal staff.

Over a third of judges continue to have concerns about their safety out of court.

Almost half of all judges said they would like more guidance on how to deal with internet and social media coverage of their work as a judge.

3. Salary and pensions

Most judges were paid more before they became a judge than they are paid in post. Two-thirds of all salaried judges feel that their pay and pension entitlement combined does not adequately reflect the work they have done and will do before retirement.

4. IT Resources and the New Digital Programme

A majority of judges said that the standard of IT equipment provided to them personally to use in 2020 had improved from 2014 and 2016, and that internet access and IT support in 2020 had also both improved from 2014 and 2016. But they felt that the standard of IT equipment used in courts and tribunals in 2020 had continued to decline since 2014 and 2016.

By 2020 virtually all salaried judges were on e-Judiciary (the internal web-based communications system), and most judges rated it as either Excellent to Good or Adequate.

By 2020 wifi was available in nearly all court/hearing rooms. Most judges rated its quality as Excellent/Good or Adequate.

5. Working during the Covid-19 emergency

During May-June 2020, a majority of judges  said that the judiciary was managing change well during the Covid-19 emergency. The extent to which judges were working in their court or tribunal varied substantially by judicial post during the first lockdown in May-June 2020.

6 Future planning

A large proportion of the salaried judiciary say they might consider leaving the judiciary early over the next 5 years. In 2020, a new factor, “lack of respect for the judiciary by government”, was more significant in prompting judges to leave early than any other factor identified in 2016. There was also a substantial increase from 2016 in judges who said that stressful working conditions, increases in workload and further demands for out of hours work would make them more likely to leave the judiciary early.

A majority of judges said the same 3 factors would make them more likely to remain in the judiciary: higher remuneration, better administrative support and restoration of previous pension entitlements.

7. Recruitment

In 2020, almost two-thirds of all judges said they would encourage suitable people to apply to the judiciary. The main reasons for this were: the chance to contribute to justice being done , the challenge of the work,  public service and intellectual satisfaction

The full report is available at https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/judicial-attitudes-survey/

Written by lwtmp

April 12, 2021 at 12:25 pm

Responding to Covid-19: the work of tribunals

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All parts of the English Legal System have been affected by Covid 19 – some more adversely than others. The criminal justice system in particular is under severe pressure – not all the result of covid.

By contrast, one sector of the justice system that has risen to the challenge of Covid particularly well is the Tribunals system. It has taken full advantage of new technologies, new ways of working, flexible approaches by judges, support staff and members of the public to ensure that its work has continued – in some cases more successfully than before Covid 19 struck.

In the latest edition of Tribunals Journal, which was published towards the end of March 2021, gives a first hand account, by different tribunal heads, of how they have coped with Covid over the past 12 months.

The outcome is truly impressive and shows how much can be done. Highly recommended read.

Of course, it is not yet clear how far the practices adopted over the past 12 months will continue after the pandemic has subsided. However, my view is that simply going back to the old ways of working, without careful analysis of the experience of the last 12 months, would be a seriously retrograde step.

See https://www.judiciary.uk/publications/tribunals-journal/ and click on the link for the Special Edition for 2021.

The latest edition of Tribunals

Equal Treatment Bench Book – 2021 revision

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The Equal Treatment Bench Book (ETBB) is the subject of frequent amendment. A Comprehensive revision was released in February, 2021..

The aim of the ETBB to increase judicial awareness and understanding of the different circumstances of people appearing in courts and tribunals.  It is designed to enable effective communication and suggests steps which should increase participation by all parties.

This new revision of the ETBB cites recent evidence regarding the experiences of different communities living in Britain today. It contains practical guidance aimed at helping make the court experience more accessible for parties and witnesses who might be uncertain, fearful or feel unable to participate.

There are practical tips on communicating with those speaking English as a second language or through interpreters, communicating with people with mental disabilities, a guide to different naming systems, and latest views on acceptable terminology.

There is new and expanded content on:

  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on different groups and how to conduct remote hearings (on audio or video platforms) fairly
  • Welsh/English bilingualism and the right to speak Welsh in courts and tribunals in Wales
  • Reducing jargon and legalese
  • Assisting a litigant who has difficulty reading or writing
  • Extended guidance in relation to litigants-in-person (ie people representing themselves)
  • New entries in the disability glossary
  • Confidence in the courts of minority ethnic communities
  • Sensitivity if a witness is experiencing menopausal symptoms

Although intended primarily for use by judges in courts and tribunals, its contents deserve to be widely known appearing in a court or tribunal or with an interest in how the legal system works. It is of particular relevance to those who may be seeking a judicial appointment.

The full text of the 2021 revision is at https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/equal-treatment-bench-book-new-edition/

Written by lwtmp

April 7, 2021 at 11:08 am