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In the News

Retired Judges Returning to Courtrooms

Sarah Sharp

24th November 2022

On 17 August 2022 the mandatory retirement age of the judiciary increased from 70 to 75 to reflect the move in society where people are now working longer, and so not to lose the experienced Judges, Magistrates and Coroners from the criminal justice system.

After consultation with over 1000 responses received from the legal community, with most supporting the move and now welcoming the change, the first change in 27 years was seen, opening up the judiciary to larger numbers.

Lord Lloyd-Jones made history on 30 August 2022 when he was the first person to be appointed twice to the Supreme Court after returning from mandatory retirement earlier this year. Since then, Lord Burnett of Maldon, the Lord Chief Justice has authorised 65 retired judges to return to their posts. Many more Magistrates have also retuned to sit in courts across the count after their initial retirement.

This is one of a number of measures which are being implemented in an attempt to reduce the backlog of cases in the criminal courts which currently stands at 63,000. This has doubled since the Covid-19 pandemic and has worsened since the barristers strikes and further strike action seen at selected courts. This concerned the rollout of a new online case management system named Common Platform, which many believe is not fit for purpose and causing more problems than assisting in the delivery of smooth justice.

Other measures include having part-time fee paid Recorders sitting on more cases and District Judges who sit in the Magistrates’ Courts to work in Crown Courts. Even though there have been campaigns to recruit more to the judiciary, targeted numbers have not been reached. For many experienced legal professionals no longer seek a career as a judge; citing poor wages, less flexibility and poor working conditions compared to their existing legal careers.

After years of underfunding, the government has lifted many financial restrictions as to how many days courts can sit to try and reduce the backlog of cases to 53,000 within two and a half years. However, with not enough Judges to fill each court this seems very unlikely and many courts are remaining empty.

Even if this target was achieved, this would still be almost 20,000 more outstanding cases than the backlog in 2018-19, meaning achieving justice is becoming slower. The average time for a criminal case to reach court after the initial report of the offence is one year, but with the delays already mentioned, this can often be much longer. In some areas this can be much longer, with North Yorkshire on average taking three years to see criminal cases reaching their courts. Rape victims now on average wait just under two years from the date of charge to their case being heard in the courts. This can lead to a harrowing wait for victims to finally see justice being done in the courts.

It would seem therefore that the criminal justice system is in crisis, with a lack of judges, the impact of underfunding and legal professional striking, meaning justice is not really being achieved.

What are your thoughts?

  • What are your thoughts on the abolition of the mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges? Is this increase in age, allowing experience to remain in the criminal justice system or are there disadvantages to consider?
  • What do you think the impact of court backlogs on defendants and victims is? How else could this backlog be further reduced?

AUTHOR: GEMMA SHEPHERD-ETCHELLS

Sarah Sharp

Sarah is an experienced A-Level and BTEC Law teacher and examiner. Sarah is Subject Lead for Law at tutor2u, leading the team developing online and print resources for A-Level and BTEC Law courses.

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