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‘Worrying shortfall’ in district bench recruitment will have adverse consequences for family cases

Lord Chief Justice publishes annual report

There has been a worrying shortfall in the recruitment of salaried members to the District Bench this year, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Burnett of Maldon, says in his recently published annual report. The shortfall will have adverse consequences for the family and civil jurisdictions, he notes.

Otherwise the Lord Chief Justice notes that the government's commitment to legislative change to deal with the problems flowing from changes to the Judicial Pension Scheme, together with interim steps now in place, will help to secure the strength and quality of the judiciary and ameliorate problems in recruitment. The number of High Court judges recently recruited is greater than last year. Lord Burnett concludes:

"We are not yet back to full strength, but I am optimistic that the position is on the mend."

The existing Recorder Appraisal Scheme is being extended to the family jurisdiction. In October 2019 a number of Circuit judges were trained to be Recorder appraisers. Civil and family schemes follow a similar process to that in crime although the family scheme is initially being run as a pilot in a limited number of courts.

Recruiting more magistrates, the Ord Chief Justice considers, is essential in all jurisdictions, including family, and recruitment drives are currently taking place both to increase numbers and to improve the diversity of the Magistracy. In October 2018 direct recruitment to the Family Court was introduced supported by tailored specialist training.

The Lord Chief Justice notes "the significant and unprecedented rise in public and private law cases" in recent years.

In July the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, addressed aletter of 'profound' thanks to every judge, magistrate, HMCTS staff member, civil servant, CAFCASS officer, social work and lawyer involved in the Family Justice system and Court of Protection in England and Wales. In it he said:

"I am writing simply to offer you my profound thanks and appreciation for all that each one of you has done to keep our heavily burdened system up, running and delivering results for the benefit of children and their families during the past 12 months. I know that for many this has not been at all easy at times, and that stress from the unremitting volume of work is not to be under-estimated. Knowing that this is so, redoubles my appreciation for all that you do."

For the Lord Chief Justice's report, click here.