Judges dealing with difficult caseloads are receiving annual one-to-one meetings with psychologists, the Lord Chief Justice has revealed.
His annual report also highlighted continuing problems with recruitment, morale and the crumbling court estate.
Lord Burnett said: “Many judges are obliged to cope with a relentless stream of cases involving serious sexual, physical and emotional abuse. An enhanced welfare programme has been introduced to ensure appropriate assistance and support.
“The programme includes an annual one-to-one welfare conversation with psychologists for judges identified as being at potential risk because of the nature of their caseload; telephone welfare support lines; and e-learning sessions on resilience and stress management.”
He added that the need for “strong leadership” has been recognised, with senior leadership judges receiving management, leadership and resilience coaching.
“All salaried judges are to be offered leadership conversations and are encouraged to discuss personal wellbeing and future career aspirations.”
Lord Burnett argued that the public should not be expected to visit dilapidated buildings and neither was it reasonable to expect staff or judges to work in conditions “which would not be tolerated elsewhere”.
Though last year the maintenance budget was all spent – “in contrast with relatively recent practice” – and the Ministry of Justice provided an extra £7m, he said “the reality is that the backlog of urgent maintenance needed to ensure that all our buildings are in a decent condition will only be reduced by the injection of substantial funds”.
He added that “a disintegrating and poorly maintained court estate” was also seen by judges as demonstrating a low regard for the judiciary and the rule of law.
It also contributed to the “low levels of morale within the judiciary”. Other factors were the increasing workload in most jurisdictions, and “the reduction and high turnover of staff”.
“With the Judicial Executive Board and the Judicial Office, I have been working to engage with judges at all levels and have put in place changes designed to improve morale. Importantly, we have involved judges directly in the development of the modernisation programme and worked hard with government on the underlying causes of the difficulties we have faced in recruitment.”
Lord Burnett said “a worrying number” of positions in the High Court and circuit bench remained unfilled, with the judiciary and Judicial Appointments Commission looking to improve the selection process, including a streamlined application scheme for appointments to the High Court.
He added: “Efforts are underway to support the development of fee-paid judges who will constitute a major part of the pool of applicants for salaried office. For example, appraisals for Recorders (in crime) have been introduced, increasing the scope of judges appraised.”