Lord Chancellor says judges' work will be monitored

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The Independent Online
IN AN unprecedented move, the Lord Chancellor yesterday announced the setting up of a 'management-information system', to monitor the workloads and working patterns of the country's senior judiciary.

The move followed Lord Mackay of Clashfern's decision last week to appoint 10 additional High Court judges - bringing the number up to 92 - to help reduce delays and backlogs of cases, which a recent review had concluded had reached a 'serious and unacceptable' level.

In what was becoming a bitter wrangle between judges and ministers, Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice - appointed with a mandate to modernise the judiciary and streamline the appeals system - threatened that he would not be able to do his job without more judges. The delays were becoming a 'national disgrace', he said.

It may have been his intervention, coupled with the findings of the review by Lord Justice Kennedy, which persuaded the Treasury to find the extra pounds 1.58m a year. As of 1 April, the judges will each earn pounds 90,147 a year for working an average of 40 weeks a year.

Certainly, it was the details of the workloads mainly in the Chancery division, Court of Appeal criminal division, Crown office list, employment appeal tribunal and the commercial courts, which persuaded the Lord Chancellor that the information should be constantly monitored.

Yesterday, in a written statement to the House of Lords, Lord Mackay said: 'I think it important to be able to respond properly to future changes in the pressures on the High Court. I will therefore give a high priority to the introduction of a management-information system, so that decisions about the number and deployment of High Court judges can in future be based on fuller information and working patterns and workload.'

But a spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's department said that the management review would not look at any individual's workload or performance. 'This is not a time-and-motion study,' he said.

The Law Society is to launch a High Court challenge against the Lord Chancellor's proposal to introduce fixed standard fees in legal-aid criminal cases in magistrates' courts.

Mark Sheldon, the society's president, said it would seek a judicial review of Lord Mackay's proposal which would end the practice of paying solicitors for the amount of time spent on a case.

The society argues that the plans will worsen the quality of service. Mr Sheldon said: 'The scheme will overpay some lawyers and underpay others and that may sow the seeds of mistrust between client and solicitor and worsen the quality of service available to those who need legal aid.' The society, together with the Bar Council, judges and consumer groups, is at loggerheads with the Lord Chancellor over his determination to press ahead next month with radical cuts in legal aid.