M'learned friend needs to learn more

Stephen Ward on a call for resources to meet the pace of reform
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The Independent Online
The Government will need to commit far more money to training judges if proposed reforms to speed up tortuous and archaic procedures are to work, the chairman of the Judicial Studies Board warned last week.

The budget of the body that trains and retrains the 3,000 judges is already due to increase by two-thirds this year to pounds 1.3m, and the chairman, Lord Justice Henry, an Appeal Court judge, said it would have to go up further, but it was too early to say how much money would be needed.

In his report, he said: "There can be no reasonable doubt that frequent changes in the criminal law and the decisions made on the implementation of Lord Woolf's report ... will lead to an increased need for judicial training."

Before 1979 judges were not trained, and resented any suggestion that they needed to be, but younger judges now see constant updating of their skills and specialist knowledge as an important part of the job, said Lord Justice Henry.

Two circuit judges, Judge Pitchers and Judge Sumner, have been appointed in a job-share as paid directors of studies. They will each spend six months of the year sitting as a judge, and six months as training director.

According to Lord Justice Henry: "There is today a general recognition of the importance of judicial training, and a call (from within the judiciary and without) for more training."

Part of the cost is the lost judicial time in court while they are away training.

Lord Woolf, the Law Lord who is midway through a complete review of civil justice, has already recommended that judges should intervene much more. At the moment the pace of the case is dictated by the speed of the two sides and their lawyers, and may drag on for years before reaching a judge.

In future, Lord Woolf says, judges should manage the cases from an early stage, set target times and hurry things along. But he has told Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, that the new role requires judges to "change their culture". Some will find it easy, some will need substantial retraining.

Lord Justice Henry was speaking at the launch of the latest four-yearly report of the Judicial Studies Board. From now on, it is to be given greater financial independence and more staff, and will publish annual reports.