The Lord Chief Justice's annual report for 2018 has been published. In it, he says that in his first year in the role he has been 'more impressed than ever by the extraordinary dedication of our judges and magistrates to the administration of justice and the public we serve' in what he describes as 'increasingly difficult circumstances'.
The report highlights concerns about the state of the court estate, saying that 'the public should not be expected to visit dilapidated buildings and neither is it reasonable to expect staff or judges to work in conditions which would not be tolerated elsewhere' and that it would need an 'injection of substantial funds' to ensure that all court buildings are in a 'decent condition'. The report also argues that the 'poor state' of many court buildings is a contributing factor to low levels of morale within the judiciary, which is an issue he views with 'considerable concern'.
On reform, the report says that the senior judiciary are working with HM Courts and Tribunals Service to develop reforms that will deliver improvements without compromising access to justice or open justice, and notes that 'the pace of modernisation is expected to increase over the coming year'. The report also recognises that 'the magistracy has coped impressively with the adoption of new technology and ways of working'. It notes the continuing reduction in the overall number of magistrates and highlights the introduction of direct recruitment to the family court, the development of a new national recruitment process for magistrates (which is nearing completion), and ongoing work to look at how best to raise the profile of the magistracy.
The report notes the increased caseloads in the family courts, which it describes as now having stabilised, and the consequent increased backlogs in both public and private law cases. It recognises, however, that 'magistrates continue to make a vital contribution to the work of the family court'. The report also recognises the contribution that magistrates make to work to improve public understanding of the courts and the rule of law, which remains a key priority for the Lord Chief Justice.