09:34, December 14 148 0 theguardian.com

2018-12-14 09:34:05
Courts preparing for Brexit surge in cases, top judge reveals

The courts in England and Wales are making emergency preparations for an influx of claims and actions likely to be triggered by Brexit, the lord chief justice has revealed.

Lord Burnett of Maldon said extra staff may be recruited. He also said under-funding of the deteriorating court system was endangering London’s international legal reputation and the foreign earnings it attracts, and he echoed comments made by the Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, that affluent drug users should consider the “huge social damage” they cause.

Speaking at his annual press conference in a draughty, 19th-century decorated hall in the Royal Courts of Justice, Burnett said the approach of Brexit had prompted contingency planning.

“An amount of work has gone into looking forward about the consequences of all sorts of outcomes,” Burnett said. “We have been looking a whole range of ‘what ifs’. We expect there to be a short-term increase in work related to Brexit whatever happens, particularly in the administrative court.

“We have put in place plans to recruit additional administrators to deal with the hiccups in some of the work.” There was already a shortage of full-time judges due to a “recruitment crisis”, he noted, but more fee-paid and part-time judges may be called in to cope with any increase in caseloads.

Burnett called for better funding of the courts and improved salaries and pensions for judges. The senior salaries review body recently recommended a 32% rise, he pointed out.

“There’s a need to recruit an unprecedented number of judges at all levels and across all jurisdictions in the next couple of years,” Burnett said. “The judicial appointments committee has been unable to recommend the number of judges we need to fill places. That has been more apparent in the high court but its [a] growing problem in the circuit bench as well.

“I welcome the government’s recognition that the problem threatens the proper functioning of justice and the UK’s wider prosperity and its commitment to consider what changes might be paid to the judicial remuneration package.”

The courts in England and Wales cost less than £1bn a year to run once income from fees was set against costs, he said. “The rule of law underpins everything that goes on in society. An efficient and functioning court service is crucial for stability and prosperity. It’s vital for inward investment. That’s what I hear from judges all the time who visit London [from abroad].

“We have a judiciary which has an extraordinary high international reputation. The consequence of that is that a vast amount of litigation comes to London which has nothing to do with the UK,” bringing in billions of pounds a year, he said.

But the state of many court buildings was demoralising, he said. “We continue to struggle with a court estate many parts of which are in poor condition. I hope that the next spending review will provide the opportunity for additional funds to be made available to address many years of neglect.

“The courts are having to operate in conditions which are sub-optimal. It’s not reasonable to expect staff to attend buildings which are in a terrible state, with water coming through roofs, lifts not working and no air conditioning so [hearings] have to be stopped in the summer. It will cost hundreds of millions to be sorted out.”

On the consequence of drug-taking, Burnett said: “[Cressida Dick] is absolutely right in her observations, which are directed at affluent drug users principally, that they should bear very much in mind the huge social damage they are doing further down the chain.

“She had in mind all the ‘county lines’ problems that we have at the moment, where particularly young, vulnerable kids are being used to run drugs all over the country. If ever it was thought that affluent people caught up in class A drugs should be viewed as not very serious offenders, I don’t agree with that.”

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