Our world-class independent judiciary is a pillar of our democracy and plays a unique role in ensuring our freedoms and prosperity. Every day judges take decisions on critically important issues that directly impact on people’s lives – from trying serious crimes, to deciding care arrangements for vulnerable children.
High Court, Circuit and Upper Tribunal judges in particular play a pivotal role in our justice system. They preside over the most difficult and sensitive family cases and criminal trials, often involving horrific and distressing evidence; resolve the most valuable and legally complex civil disputes; and ensure that the government behaves in a lawful and fair manner.
The importance and influence of our judiciary also reaches beyond our shores. Its reputation for integrity and impartiality helps attract international business to the UK, contributing to a legal services industry worth around £25 billion a year to our economy.
These important judicial roles require highly experienced legal professionals with many years of training and experience behind them. It is imperative that we continue to attract the highest calibre candidates to take up these critical posts.
The SSRB’s major review, which was presented to this House on 26 October 2018, identified clear evidence of severe recruitment and retention issues in the High Court, and of growing problems at the Circuit bench and similar issues in the Upper Tribunal.
For the first time ever, in consecutive recruitment campaigns, we have now failed to fill vacancies in the High Court and at the Circuit bench. Currently more than 10% of High Court judicial positions remain unfilled and, as things stand, the Chancery Division of the High Court, which handles major commercial cases, is already 20% below strength and will be up to 40% below strength by the end of the year without urgent action. The impact of vacancies is already being felt in the family courts, where a shortfall of judges is contributing to significant delays in care proceedings, which involve vulnerable children.
If these recruitment and retention issues are not addressed, cases will take longer to progress through our courts and tribunals, victims of crime will have to wait longer for justice, and vulnerable people and children will be left at risk. If we are unable to fill the growing number of vacancies with judges of the right quality, delays in our courts could also mean business is lost to other English-speaking courts in Singapore, Amsterdam, Paris and elsewhere.
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 I am announcing a series of policies to support recruitment and retention in the judiciary, to ensure our courts and tribunals system can continue to deliver important services.
The Government is committed to addressing the underlying cause of the recruitment and retention problems. However, it would not be sensible to make pension changes when the McCloud litigation, which could have a significant but uncertain impact on public service pensions, is ongoing. Once that litigation has concluded, the government will bring forward legislation for a long-term, pensions-based solution for the whole judiciary.
However, there is now a need for immediate action – which is why today I am announcing the introduction of a temporary recruitment and retention allowance at 25% for salaried High Court judges, and 15% for Circuit and Upper Tribunal judges covered by the new pension scheme.
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 is lower than the SSRB’s recommendation of a 32% permanent salary increase for High Court judges and a 22% increase for Circuit and Upper Tribunal judges covered by the new pension scheme, striking a balance between an appropriate investment of public funds and addressing serious recruitment and retention problems.
We recognise that the SSRB also pointed to emerging recruitment issues at the District bench and, while the evidence of a problem is not currently strong enough to necessitate immediate action at this tier of the judiciary, we are committed to addressing the underlying cause of the recruitment and retention problems highlighted by the SSRB through a long-term solution for the whole judiciary, which will include pension scheme changes.
The Government will also be making an annual pay award for 2019/20 of 2% for all judges, which will be backdated to 1 April 2019. In addition, we will ensure that judges are placed in the correct salary groupings based on the evidence provided by the SSRB and their independent job comparison panel. Salary group changes will come into effect at the start of the legal year, 1 October 2019.
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.
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 a modern and professional judiciary.
This includes taking practical steps by encouraging and supporting eligible candidates from under-represented groups successfully to 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.
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 I am announcing a package of measures which strikes the right balance between the importance of ensuring we can recruit and retain world-class judges for the future and the necessary investment of public funds.
A copy of the Government Response to the SSRB’s Major Review has been laid in both Houses and will be available online at www.gov.uk.