The Rt Hon The Lord Burnett of Maldon has appeared before the House of Commons Justice Select Committee to give evidence on his work as the Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales.
In a session on Tuesday (8 November 2022), he addressed questions from MPs on a wide range of topics, including the backlog of cases in the Crown Court, listing, judicial capacity, reform, HR, transparency and the state of the court estate.
On the Crown Court backlog, Lord Burnett outlined some of the ongoing work. He said: “We have taken every step we can think of to try to mitigate the problem of reduced judicial capacity. We have encouraged Recorders to sit more. We’ve lifted the limit on the number of days Recorders can sit…. The next step we’ve taken is to use a statutory provision which has never been used before which enables District Judges who sit in the Magistrates’ Court to sit in the Crown Court, and a cohort of District Judges have been trained up to sit in the Crown Court about 50 days each over the course of the rest of this year. I along with the Lord Chancellor have authorised a significant number of retired Circuit Judges to sit in retirement… And the last action we are taking is to train and deploy Deputy High Court Judges who are assigned to the King’s Bench Division to sit in crime if they wish to.”
At the committee, Lord Burnett also spoke about the recruitment of judges, the continued use of video technology in court cases when appropriate, using the digital case management system Common Platform, the work of the civil and family courts, the condition of various court buildings, work to tackle incidents of bullying and harassment within the judiciary, and broadcasting of sentencing remarks in criminal courts.
Lord Burnett was asked if the criminal courts were continuing to make the best use of video technology post-pandemic. He replied: “The position remains that, if it’s in the interests of justice to allow somebody to attend remotely who wishes to attend remotely, that should be happening…. But it’s not suitable for everything. I think the use of technology is as widespread as it should be. It can be really advantageous, particularly to make life easier of those attending, but it’s a mistake to think it necessarily speeds things up.”
Speaking about the recent introduction of live televised sentencing of certain Crown Court cases, Lord Burnett said: “It’s early days, I think there’s only been three so far. But we are moving in the right direction. It’s something that will help public understanding. Inevitably for most people there will just be a snippet broadcast during a news report, whether picked up on TV or other media, and, for those who are really interested, more will be available to be seen. It’s a really important step and is long overdue.”
A video of the proceedings is available on the Parliament website (external link) and a full transcript of the evidence session is available below.