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First, the basic terms and benefits. If the sacrifice involved in becoming a judge is too financially dispiriting, people will just not make it. A judge nowadays is expected to serve 20 years, not 15, and has to retire at 70. That means that he or she is usually appointed younger than previously, with fewer years of barrister’s earnings under the belt. In the last few years, real pay has gone down 20 per cent or more. (A proposed 3 per cent award in 2016 was not made.) More importantly, the pension entitlement has been radically transformed without regard for what was originally promised judges on appointment. The details are complex, but the amounts payable on retirement, especially if a barrister has contributed to a pension before appointment, are greatly reduced. The pension scheme used to be non-contributory; now judges must contribute. These major changes, instituted by Grayling, were deeply resented, especially their retrospective imposition. The handling of judges’ pensions has, more than any other factor, precipitated the present recruitment crisis and engendered an irremediable loss of trust. The Senior Salaries Review Body’s 2013 report summed up the situation: “The combination of the reduction in the value of the pension and prolonged pay restraint will result in a tipping point when there will be too few of the right quality willing to make the transition. We believe we may be at that tipping point now.”

Second, the workload has increased hugely: judges are now ridiculously overworked. This is not universally understood, especially by those who draw attention to their court hours, which are (paradigmatically) 10.30am to 4.15pm. Quite apart from the fact that judges often sit for much longer than this, there is a total misconception here. The demands of pre-reading (which have increased enormously as advocacy in English courts is increasingly conducted on paper), judgment-writing, dealing with written applications, as well as other administrative tasks, all remorselessly consume judges’ early mornings, evenings and weekends. To a degree, long hours have always been part of the deal, but there is simply much more litigation for judges to cope with: human rights cases, immigration and asylum cases, judicial review applications exist in numbers undreamed-of formerly; the growth in the number of litigants in person imposes especial burdens; and the number of judges has not kept pace with the increase in the volume of work.

Third, judges are now subjected, in a way that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago, to civil service oversight. Whereas judges used to be responsible for their own working conditions and (it was thought) could be trusted to be efficient and diligent, the control of their environment is now in the hands of officials. These appear to be principally interested in ensuring that judges try cases faster, try more of them, and produce judgments in a timescale inimical to the quality of the result. Judges feel pressured by a bureaucracy that appears to have little understanding of the nature of the job, and to be concerned only with targets, efficiency and cost savings. They are also burdened with ever more tasks which have some general connection with the administration of justice, but nothing to do with being a judge. A large proportion of the time of members of the Court of Appeal is spent in performing administrative tasks or overseeing departmental activity. Some members do little else. A recent survey has found that 77 per cent of judges with leadership responsibilities feel that their work has increased significantly in the past three years, and that they have to deal with an increasing number of complex matters in addition to their daily court sittings.

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December 20th, 2016
2:12 PM
Paul Leslie's posting is wholly inappropriate. His complaints arise from matters nothing to do with what Jonathan Gaisman has so pertinently written about and he does not begin to justify his comment that "most of this article is utter nonsense and even dishonest in parts". That is unsurprising: the article is on the ball and palpably honest.

Paul Leslie
December 15th, 2016
2:12 PM
Unlike most Standpoint articles this piece is not only utter nonsense but also dishonest in parts. "Society axiomatically benefits from a judiciary in good fettle, vigilantly defending our rights and freedoms, even — particularly — when there is violent disagreement over what those rights are" - what vigorous defence? With the full complicity of many senior and more junior judges - sometimes even without recourse to legislation which tramples the rights of the accused - more and more cases are coming to court where there is no proof even that a crime has been committed Especially since the deplorably one-sided report by Robin Auld, the only defence for the unjustly accused against prosecution is not the lack of solid evidence but a belief by the DPP that there is not a more than 50% possibility of conviction. As far as victims of miscarriages of justice are concerned they have to jump through expensive hoops and demonstrate their innocence "beyond reasonable doubt". Even when, as in the case of Victor Nealon, this can be conclusively demonstrated - including by invoking the proof (I am aware that absence of evidence is not always proof of innocence, but not in this case) that his DNA was completely absent, whether on the victim's clothing or elsewhere at the scene of the crime - there are any number of highly placed judicial functionaries to bring forward specious arguments to deny justice to the wrongfully convicted. See and other relevant articles.

Paul Leslie
December 15th, 2016
2:12 PM
Unusually for a Standpoint article most of this article is utter nonsense and even dishonest in parts. "Society axiomatically benefits from a judiciary in good fettle, vigilantly defending our rights and freedoms, even — particularly — when there is violent disagreement over what those rights are." - and the complicity of so many senior and more junior judges in the serious erosion of the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence and the contemptible curtailing of compensation for the wrongly convicted? The wrongly convicted have to jump through expensive hoops to have a chance of being compensated and to demonstrate that they are innocent "beyond reasonable doubt". Take, for example, the case of Victor Nealon case where the absence of his DNA at the scene of the crime demonstrates conclusively that he could not have been guilty the high ranking judicial functionaries involved found a way to deny him any form of retroactive justice (I am aware that absence of evidence is not always a proof of innocence, but not in the case of this poor man who served seventeen years in prison following a deplorable miscarriage of justice). In a country where the judiciary is attached to the right of a fair trial someone who is acquitted or wrongly convicted and only belatedly let out of prison should not pay for justice to be properly served.

Angela Brown
November 25th, 2016
7:11 PM
The selection process for judges seems to be built around a framework of desirable competencies and behaviours, as frequently used by HR professionals. A much better indicator of capability and potential is performance in relevant current and previous roles, when available, which it surely is in the case of recruitment to the judiciary.

November 23rd, 2016
2:11 PM
I entirely agree and particularly enjoyed the excoriation of Falconer. It seems a shame to bring the Article 50 case into it though. However unfair some of the press criticism may be it is not a case of the courts stepping in to restrain a tyrannical legislative majority or overbearing executive, but of the courts being exploited by a disaffected minority to try to frustrate the result of a referendum. Perhaps it was the right decision from a legal point of view but lawyers should not be surprised that non-lawyers look askance at the outcome.

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