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Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
23 April 2004
The public believes every part of the criminal justice system is failing, the country's most senior judge acknowledged last night.
The lord chief justice, Lord Woolf, giving the Mishcon lecture at University College London, said: "We are not being sufficiently tough on the causes of crime. Unfortunately, it has to be accepted that, for many years now, the public have had little confidence in the ability of our criminal justice system to ensure that justice is done."
The public believes every part of the criminal justice system is failing
The public believes every part of the criminal justice system is failing, the country's most senior judge has acknowledged. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, painted a "gloomy" picture of the health of the penal system, with overcrowded prisons and little public confidence that justice is being done. In what will be seen as a reference to Tony Blair's famous soundbite, Lord Woolf, added: "We are not being sufficiently tough on the causes of crime." "Unfortunately, it has to be accepted that, for many years now, the public have had little confidence in the ability of our criminal justice system to ensure that justice is done. "Regrettably, each part of the system has appeared to be failing the public," he said, giving the Mishcon Lecture at University College London, last night. Lord Woolf insisted that the problems of overcrowded prisons made it much harder for the penal system effectively to deal with offenders. He warned of a "huge gap" between planned capacity in the country's prisons and the forecast jail population growing to up to 106,000 by 2010. He said there had been "no shortage of reviews of the penal process". "Each report reveals a mind-blowing situation involving vast expenditure with little if any long-term improvement in the protection of the public," he said. "At any one time there are on average more than 10,000 prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less. "This is despite the fact that there is a uniform acceptance that sentences of this sort make little or no contribution to the reduction of crime. The inescapable conclusion is that, unless there is a dramatic change in the way that we deal with offenders, there is every likelihood of the position getting worse."
From The TimesSeptember 17, 2007
Judges face work assessment by their peers.
Frances Gibb, Legal Editor
Judges face having their performance in court assessed under plans to ensure that their skills in handling cases are up to scratch and that they treat people fairly and courteously.
Judges across all ranks could find themselves being examined ? on handling a court, showing authority, communicating and resolving issues and managing time and workloads, in the plans under discussion. The move would see them appraised formally on how well they listen; whether they communicate clearly without using legal jargon and on the general handling of their cases.
A working party of judges has been set up to report to the Judges’ Council, the judges’ representative body, on the potential benefits of an appraisal scheme. The working party is still at an early stage, looking at how appraisals of judges could work, the costs, and whether the concept conflicts with the principle of judicial independence. It is expected to report back next year. Any appraisal scheme is likely to proceed slowly, first with the circuit bench and possibly then moving to the higher judiciary.
Although performance appraisal is controversial, backers say that it might have prevented the current scenario of Mr Justice Peter Smith being disciplined over refusing to step aside from a case in which he was involved with one of the parties. The judge, best known for his judgment on The Da Vinci Code, has been referred to the Office for Judicial Complaints by the Lord Chief Justice. As well as his refusal to step aside, he has been criticised for being rude to counsel.
Performance appraisal for judges was recommended in a report on the criminal courts by Sir Robin Auld and has the backing of the Judges’ Council, provided that it is undertaken by a judge of the same or more senior rank than the judge being checked. There is already an appraisal and mentoring scheme for deputy district judges, the lowest judicial tier, and a pilot scheme has been carried out for recorders on the Northern circuit.
Mr Justice Andrew Smith, chairman of the committee looking into appraisals, said that the pilot had “showed the potential benefits of such a scheme”.
District Judge Stephen Gerlis, who has acted as an appraiser, said that every deputy district judge was appraised each year by a different district judge, who watched the judge in court for a day. He said: “The appraisal is pretty effective in picking out problems, particularly time management. The downside is that it is quite stressful for the deputy district judge, knowing that his or her every move is being watched; and it is tiring for the district judge as it is a long day.”
Performance appraisal is already used in the training of magistrates.
Richard Susskind, a lawyer who advises Lord Phillips of Worth Mat-ravers, the Lord Chief Justice, has said that performance appraisal of judges’ work is essential if the judiciary is to be fully respected in a modern democracy and to provide a good service. Judges, he said, need to be actively managed as a workforce. Leading law firms have introduced performance appraisal of partners and found it beneficial, he argues. “If a partner is performing well ? that is, to the satisfaction of his peers, teams and clients, then it is reassuring, motivating and productive for all if that satisfaction is articulated and often rewarded.”
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