The outgoing Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, has delivered his final annual report before Parliament today, weeks before Sir Ian Burnett is due to take up the position. Within the report he noted that 2016 saw a ‘large and sustained rise in public law applications’ at a time of static judicial resources. He concurred with the President of the Family Division’s description of the situation as ‘a crisis’.
He also reported the following developments in family justice:
- The Government has committed to legislate to end an alleged perpetrator’s right to cross-examine an alleged victim. Lord Thomas welcomed this, noting that the judiciary has pressed for this for many years.
- Draft rule changes to improve support for vulnerable witnesses to match the level currently available in the criminal courts are before the Family Procedure Rules Committee and will hopefully be implemented by the end of this year.
- Care cases involving radicalisation have reduced over the last 12 months. They continue to be dealt with according to the President’s Guidance issued in October 2015. Over the next 12 months, it is anticipated that cases will also arise when the families of UK citizens return from IS territory.The Guidance will be kept under review.
- The new procedure whereby the Family Division of the High Court has taken over responsibility for the majority of appeals in private law cases from the Family Court ‘has demonstrated that these cases can be dealt with expeditiously and fairly’.
- A new protocol is being developed to promote Anglo-Scottish judicial cooperation, covering a issues of mutual interest, including how to approach care cases with a cross-jurisdictional element.
‘My final year in office has, in many ways, been the most difficult,’ Lord Thomas said in the report’s introduction, describing Brexit as ‘one of the most complex and difficult issues our country has faced in peacetime’. However, he defended London’s reputation as a leading centre for international dispute resolution against ‘the false perceptions of uncertainty’ caused by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
He highlighted the ongoing importance of protecting and promoting access to justice, judicial diversity and the independence of the judiciary, and offered his thanks to the judiciary, the staff of the HMCTS and the Judicial Office for their hard work and determination ‘at a time when the effects of nine years of austerity, retrenchment and other significant reductions in the provision of resources have made the task of delivering justice even more difficult’.
The full report can be found here.