The committee states in a report today that It is deeply concerned about the dispute between the UK government and the judiciary on pensions changes; that the working conditions of the judiciary are having a detrimental effect on retaining and recruiting judges and that the dilapidated state of some courts, the administrative burdens on judges, under-resourcing of court staff and IT shortcomings need to be addressed.
It adds that the judiciary must be free from abuse and personal attacks by the media and that the Lord Chancellor has a constitutional duty to defend the independence of the judiciary.
It notes, however, that this does not impinge on the right of the press to criticise court judgments.
It also recommends that the fixed retirement age for judges should be reconsidered, particularly for the senior judiciary.
The committee makes a number recommendations for improving diversity in the judiciary, including:
- that the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice should examine the obstacles faced by government lawyers in gaining the required experience for judicial office.
- Chartered legal executives who have been appointed as district judges should not be prevented from promotion to higher courts.
- The government and the legal profession should work with law firms to encourage solicitors to apply for judicial positions.
- The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice, the Judicial Appointments Commission and the legal professions must monitor progress and look for new ways to encourage diversity.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton, chairman of the Committee, said: “The UK has one of the finest judicial systems in the world. However, we have found 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.
“One of the fundamental principles of our judiciary is its independence and it is the constitutional duty of the Lord Chancellor to uphold and defend that principle. Judges must be free to decide cases without fear of personal criticism from the media.
“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. We urge the Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice, the Judicial Appointments Commission and the legal profession to monitor progress, and look for new ways to improve and encourage diversity.”