In an annual report published by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, it has been indicated that the shortage of District Judges will have adverse consequences for family and civil courts.
The problem stems from a worrying shortfall in the recruitment of District Judges. The shortfall coupled with a rise in the number of both Private law and Public law cases, has meant that those District Judges still at Court are having to deal with a heavier caseload. For individuals using the courts, this can mean delay both in the listing of matters and dealing with court documents.
It is an extremely difficult position for District Judges to be in. This potentially could become an even more onerous prospect for them if a new pilot scheme operating currently in Manchester for flexible court hours is rolled out to all family courts. The same could potentially see those District Judges having to hear matters outside of normal working hours.
As family practitioners, we aim to try to assist the court wherever possible in lightening the burden by encouraging our clients to resolve matters without the need to issue formal and contested proceedings. In children matters, we encourage parents to consider alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, to reach agreements.
Obviously, there are still those cases where court applications will be necessary, especially if there are risk factors such as drug or alcohol misuse, untreated mental health issues or significant police or social services involvement. Parents often choose to represent themselves, which only adds to the numbers using the court system.
It can only be hoped that the government will give careful consideration to the current recruitment procedure for judges and look to provide the Ministry of Justice with the support they need to recruit more District Judges in England and Wales.