The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales (“LCJ”), Lord Burnett of Maldon, laid his annual report before Parliament on 31 October 2022 (the “Report”).
The LCJ has a leadership role in the judiciary, with statutory responsibility for the maintenance of appropriate arrangements in respect of the administration, financial management, discipline, diversity, training, guidance and welfare of judges and magistrates in England and Wales. Amongst the LCJ’s key responsibilities are to represent the view of the judiciary in England and Wales to the Government and Parliament, and to oversee the deployment of judges and allocation of work in the courts of England and Wales.
As part of this, in recent years, the LCJ has presented an annual report to Parliament setting out matters of importance to the judiciary. This year’s Report covers the period from July 2021 to September 2022 (“Reporting Period”). Key takeaways from this year’s Report include:
Although the courts continue to be affected by the backlog of cases exacerbated by the pandemic, outstanding caseloads have stopped rising and, for the most part, began to see slow but steady decline. Challenges remain, however. Recruitment to the judiciary remains difficult in some areas, with shortfalls across England and Wales (most acutely felt in London and the South East), causing constraints on judicial capacity which affect the ability of the judiciary to dispose of cases quickly. The LCJ also spoke about judicial diversity, his relationship with Government, funding for courts and tribunals, legal aid, the increase in sentencing powers of magistrates as well as the increased use of technology in the Courts.
Judicial Data Protection Panel
During the Reporting Period, the Panel continued to focus on raising awareness across the judiciary of data protection requirements and the importance of strict compliance. The Panel produced a revised and expanded data protection handbook – the “Judicial data protection handbook”.
During the Reporting Period, the Ministry of Justice introduced the Small Claims Paper Determination Pilot, which allows certain small claims to be determined on the papers, without a hearing and without the agreement of the parties. The Pilot will run until 1 June 2024 (unless extended) and is being trialled in six County Courts in respect of claims issued after 1 June 2022. The pilot allows judgments to be produced in template form, saving judges time, and making judgments more accessible for the parties.
As a result of technology introduced through the HMCTS reform programme, the number of civil money and damages claims issued online through the online civil money claims system continued to grow since its launch in May 2021. The Master of the Rolls convened a joint working group with HMCTS to focus on improving the availability of civil justice data.
Civil work in the Kings Bench Division of the High Court continued at pre-pandemic levels, across the general list and many specialist lists in the division. Video-conferencing platforms continued to be used extensively for short hearings or non-contentious applications, enabling cases to be disposed of more quickly, and in-person hearings for substantive matters became the “norm” once again. Updated editions of the King’s Bench Division Guide, Commercial Court Guide, Chancery Guide were published in 2022, as was new guidance for users of the Administrative Court. The Chancery Guide was wholly re-written to reflect best practice and substantial changes in the working of the courts since the last edition was released in 2016.
Court of Appeal Civil Division
CE-file, a new digital filing system, was introduced to replace the previous RECAP case-management system that had been in place since 1991. The changeover was gradual but is now complete, and electronic filing for legally represented parties has been mandatory since February 2022. The Court largely reverted to face-to-face hearings but retained the facility to hear cases remotely where necessary. Most substantive appeals are now livestreamed, with the intention being to introduce livestreaming to remaining courtrooms before the end of 2022. The average time between permission to appeal being granted and judgment in appeal remained under 40 weeks.
Wales had recovered to pre-pandemic levels of work by August 2021, and as such provided support to reduce the backlog of Single Justice Procedure cases in regions of England. The development of the new Law Council for Wales which aims to promote legal education and training continued this year. Additionally, the Wales Training Committee supported judicial office holders with a full programme of training on the changes to Welsh housing law introduced by the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, which is due to enter into force shortly.
The judiciary’s international work gradually returned to pre-pandemic levels, with organisations such as the European Network of the Councils for the Judiciary, the European Association of Judges and the Academy of European Law returning to in-person meetings and working groups. During the Reporting Period, judges took part in programmes such as the European Judicial Training Network which covered mediation, alternative dispute resolution, rule of law training for judges, leadership in communication and cultural diversity in the courtroom. The judiciary also continued to support the development of international standards and norms, particularly in the field of emerging technology.
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