Top judge fears budget cutbacks will add to staff shortage woes in courts system

The most senior judge in England and Wales has warned of the effect of financial constraints on the level of staffing in the UK justice system.

In his annual review of the courts, chief justice Lord Phillips said a “stream” of legislation had contributed to the courts system being “seriously overstretched”.

“The increase of workload, in the crown and county courts falling most heavily in the South East, and the shortages of judges, have led to backlogs and delays and consequent increase of pressure on judges and court staff.”

It has meant particular pressure on lead times in the administrative and commercial courts, Phillips said.

Some court reports cited examples of staff having to cover long absences of senior managers while still managing their own workload. In Surrey, the county courts have been operating at 20% under strength, the report said.

Problems highlighted in the report included a series of computer glitches, while a new appointments system resulted in delays to appointments.

“The resulting shortage of judges has affected court performance in many parts of the country, in particular in London and the South East, the Midlands and the North East,” Phillips said.

There are currently 650 courts in England and Wales staffed by some 20,000 members of HM Courts Service. There are about 1,500 judges, nearly 30,000 magistrates, and nearly 2,250 fee-paid part-timers.

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