Lady Chief Justice appears at the House of Commons Justice Committee

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The Lady Chief Justice, The Rt Hon the Baroness Carr of Walton-on-the-Hill, has given evidence at the House of Commons Justice Committee.

Appearing on Tuesday (16 January), Lady Carr spoke about a wide variety of topics, including her ambitions since recently starting her role, challenges including court backlogs and the court estate, the importance of good communications across the judiciary and diversity initiatives.

The Chair started by asking Lady Carr about the constitutional issues flowing from two high-profile topical news stories: the Horizon Post Office case of sub-postmasters having their convictions overturned, and the Illegal Migration Act regarding potential deportations to Rwanda.

Speaking about the Post Office case, she described any miscarriage of justice as “deeply troubling”.

Lady Carr added: “The High Court judgment in 2019, after two years of robust and fearless case management, delivered the judgment that forms the foundation of the ability to overturn these convictions. The first appeals and references came into the criminal courts in around the summer of 2020 and since then the courts, both at Court of Appeal and Crown Court level have done nothing but progress those cases efficiently, effectively and robustly……

“So insofar as there is a narrative out there which suggests that the courts have been unable to cope with these cases, or would in the future be unable to deal with large volumes of these cases, that is simply very far off the mark. It is simply not factually correct.”

The Chair then asked her about headlines suggesting that the Prime Minister could fast-track migrant appeals against deportation to Rwanda by ‘drafting in 150 judges and freeing courtrooms’.

Lady Carr responded: “I’m afraid that this headline draws matters of judicial responsibility into the political arena. Parliament has legislated, we the judiciary have acted in preparation for that legislation but, to be absolutely clear, matters of deployment of judges, the allocation of work for judges, and the use of courtrooms is exclusively a matter for the judiciary, and more specifically a matter for myself and the Senior President of the Tribunals and it’s really important, Chair, that people understand that clear division.”

The Committee members then asked the Lady Chief Justice more general questions about her work, her priorities and the main challenges facing the judiciary, courts and legal system.

Lady Carr replied: “My ambitions lie in three key areas. The first area is to recognise and promote judicial strength, and under that heading I would include communicating effectively the vital role in supporting democracy, society and the economy as a whole, safeguarding judicial independence and continuing to increase transparency. The second area is to build judicial unity…. including the fostering of a truly inclusive culture, one that is respectful and welcoming and inclusive, supportive across the board and strengthening diversity.

“The third area is the reduction of backlogs (of court hearings), the improvement, obviously, of timeliness and the maintenance of quality.”

Lady Carr added: “I know that, in all this, my biggest asset is my judges. Because the judges of England and Wales in the courts and tribunals work tirelessly and fearlessly with a single purpose, which is to serve the public and the rule of law, and that gives me both optimism and confidence.”

She highlighted the importance of the One Judiciary initiative bringing the courts and tribunals closer together, and praised magistrates for their work.

Lady Carr explained: “Magistrates, as you will know… are largely volunteers. They do an exceptional job.”