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Government acts to protect judicial recruitment

06 June 2019

IMMEDIATE STEPS to tackle emerging and unprecedented recruitment issues in the senior judiciary have been set out by the government.

An independent, effective judiciary is vital for upholding the rule of law for everyone. Every day, judges take decisions on critically important issues that directly impact on people’s lives, from delivering justice for victims to deciding care arrangements for vulnerable children.

For the first time ever in consecutive recruitment campaigns, vacancies in the High Court and at the Circuit bench have had to be left unfilled, raising the risk of vulnerable people waiting longer for life-changing decisions. The impact is already being felt in the family courts, where a shortfall of judges is contributing to significant delays in child care proceedings.

This government is committed to delivering world class public services and taking action when the evidence requires it to ensure their continued delivery. That is why today a series of policies have been announced to support recruitment and retention in the judiciary, to ensure our courts and tribunals system can continue to deliver important services.

Similarly, the government will consult on measures designed to address pension tax disincentives that may encourage senior clinicians to limit or reduce their workloads while participating in the NHS Pension Scheme.

Responding to a major review from the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB), the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has introduced a temporary recruitment and retention allowance at 25% for High Court judges and 15% for Circuit and Upper Tribunal judges who are eligible for the new pension scheme 2015.

This measure will affect only about a quarter of the salaried judiciary and aims to resolve the immediate recruitment issue until a long-term, sustainable, pension-based solution can be implemented for all judges.

It replaces the existing allowance of 11% for High Court judges and falls below SSRB’s recommendation of a 32% permanent salary increase for High Court judges and 22% for Circuit and Upper Tribunal judges covered by the new pension scheme. This strikes a balance between an appropriate investment of public funds and addressing serious recruitment and retention problems.

Lord Chancellor David Gauke said, “Our judges are a cornerstone of our democratic society - their experience draws billions of pounds worth of business to the UK, and without them people cannot get justice.

“We have reached a critical point. There are too many vacancies and with the retirement of many judges looming; we must act now before we see a serious impact on our courts and tribunals.

“Judges are in a unique position and once they join the bench are not permitted to return to practice. Without the best legal minds in these seats, everyone that uses our courts will suffer, as will our international reputation.

“This temporary allowance, pending long-term pension scheme change, will enable us to continue to attract the brightest and best and prevent delays to potentially life-changing decisions.”

The country’s most difficult and complex cases are heard by our most experienced judges: safeguarding vulnerable victims against serious violence or child abuse; dealing with gang violence cases involving multiple defendants; and complex fraud cases that can last years.

In practice, delays to the system can mean:

  • Victims of serious violence and sexual abuse having to wait longer to see the perpetrators brought to justice
  • Care proceedings taking longer, meaning that vulnerable children are left in the dark about their future for longer
  • Individuals affected by the decisions of Immigration and Asylum Tribunals having to wait longer to know where they and their families will live in future
  • And parties involved in complex commercial cases, who have placed their confidence in the legal system to provide certainty and resolve disputes quickly, are left waiting for answers, damaging business and enterprise.

High Court, Circuit and Upper Tribunal judges in particular play a pivotal role in the justice system but currently more than 10% of High Court judicial positions remain vacant. As things stand the Chancery Division of the High Court is already 20% below strength and will be up to 40% below strength by the end of the year without urgent action.

Today’s announcement responds to a major review from SSRB, submitted last autumn, which identified clear evidence of significant and growing recruitment and retention problems among the judiciary, particularly at senior levels. It found that, by joining the judiciary from private practice, some new judges took a pay cut of up to two-thirds.

While the robustness of the recruitment process rightly reflects the fact that judges must be of the highest calibre to make these life changing decisions, the government’s proposal ensures that making a career change remains attractive and will prevent the slowing of cases through the courts, leaving vulnerable people and children at risk.

Today’s package also includes a 2% pay award for all members of the judiciary in 2019/20. This was made following careful consideration of SSRB’s overall evidence.

In addition, the government fully endorses the work that the Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals are leading to strengthen leadership and support career development in support of the modern judiciary.

This includes taking practical steps by encouraging and supporting eligible candidates from under-represented groups to successfully apply for judicial office; supporting career progression for existing judges; growing leadership capability within the judiciary by implementing appraisals and career discussions; developing new training for leadership judges; and giving leadership judges the data and tools they need to drive performance in the system.