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UK chief justice: recent reforms have increased burdens on judiciary

UK top judge Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Igor Judge [official profile] on Friday released his three-year report detailing how recent reforms to the judicial system have placed an increased burden on the judiciary that will create problems with employing and keeping the best people. "The Lord Chief Justice's Report 2010-12" [report, PDF] covers the period January 2010 to June 2012 when "many different aspects of the administration of justice are under review and reform," showing that "constraints have affected and will continue to affect every aspect of national life, and the administration of justice is not, and has not, been immunised from the economic crisis." The report details the role of the judiciary and how it has been affected by reforms [Telegraph report] in areas of criminal, civil, family and military justice, noting that decreased criminal backlogs are due to the increased daily work of the courts and that falling numbers of total annual civil cases are offset by their increasing complexity. Lord Judge stressed the need to maintain the "morale, recruitment and retention of judges of the highest calibre" against a backdrop of a three-year judicial pay freeze, threats of strike action by criminal barristers due to pay changes, damaging reform to the Legal Aid system and general increases in overall pressure on all parts of the judiciary.

Lord Judge is expected to retire next year after five years as Lord Chief Justice. In October Lord Judge ruled that UK courts are not bound by decisions from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and speaking before the Lords Constitution Committee [official websites] suggested that while UK courts are not required to follow the ECHR [JURIST report], they should consider ECHR decisions when deciding cases. In March 2011 the UK Ministry of Justice [official website] announced the creation of a commission that will consider the implementation of a British Bill of Rights [JURIST report], which former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf warned would conflict with the ECHR, in that continued adherence to the convention combined with the creation of a Bill of Rights would create complications for judges in determining which to follow and further the existing conflict between the UK and the ECHR. In January 2010 a UK court began the first non-jury criminal trial in England or Wales in more than 400 years after Lord Judge made the decision to conduct the trial without a jury [JURIST reports] under a Criminal Justice Act 2003 [text] provision that allows a court to hold a judge-only trial if there is "evidence of a real and present danger" that jury tampering may take place and it is determined that other measures to prevent tampering would be ineffective. Lord Judge cited cost concerns regarding the expense of maintaining security for jurors in that particular trial and noted there have already been three aborted attempts to conduct the proceedings.

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