Only 2% of judges “feel valued” by the government, the first comprehensive survey of judicial attitudes to their work has found.
The survey, by the Judicial Institute of University College London, paints a shocking picture of poor morale and disillusionment among judges in Magna Carta year – and with the Global Law Summit less than two weeks away.
A total of 90% of the salaried judges in England and Wales and 85% in non-devolved UK tribunals took part in the survey.
A large majority, 85%, felt that working conditions were worse than they were five years ago. The view was held most strongly held by circuit judges (94%) and district judges (91%).
Almost half the judiciary in England and Wales complained that their workload was too high, 46%, compared to 27% of judges in UK tribunals.
Two-thirds (65%) reported that morale of court staff was poor, with 40% describing administrative support as poor.
Most judges in the courts and tribunals reported that career progression was either non-existent or poor, along with the chance to sit in other jurisdictions or take advantage of flexible working.
A majority, 57%, said they were not satisfied with the time available to undertake training, and a slighter higher figure complained about the opportunities for personal development.
Almost three-quarters of judges said they believed that too much change has been imposed on the judiciary in recent years, with 51% saying it had pushed them to “breaking point”. Almost all judges (91%) saw government policy initiatives as the primary driver behind changes imposed on them.
Judges identified the main challenges facing the judiciary as reduced support staff (92%), judicial morale (86%) and fiscal constraints (81%). These were closely followed by attracting the best people to the judiciary, litigants in person and loss of judicial independence.
Positive reasons why judges would encourage people to follow in their footsteps were the chance to contribute to justice being done, the challenge of the work, intellectual satisfaction and public service.
Most respondents identified reduced pensions and salaries as reasons to discourage people from becoming judges.
Although only 2% of judges felt valued by the government, and 4% by the media, three-quarters of judges felt valued by the parties before them, 73% by the legal profession and 49% by the public.
In a joint statement, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, and Senior President of Tribunals, Lord Justice Sullivan, said: “The survey shows that many judges are feeling, in common with millions of other people, that their work has become harder year after year in many ways.
“Even though they know they are well paid compared to most people, they, like many others, have seen their pay drop in real terms.
“The survey also shows that judges do not carry out the work solely for the money. Their work is rewarding, but also demanding – confronting significant human suffering, loss and family breakdowns or untangling business transactions with livelihoods and businesses at stake.
“Judges are dedicated to their role, working harder and longer to keep standards high. Investment which has been promised to give judges modern IT will help.”