Judges’ morale plummets in face of growing number of litigants in person

Godwin: hearings becoming far more inquisitorial

The morale of the judiciary is at an “all-time low” with increasing numbers of litigants in person (LiPs) and “savage” cuts to their remuneration package, the new president of the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges has warned.

District Judge Harold Godwin, who is based at Haverfordwest and Aberystwyth county courts, said being a judge in the 21st century is “becoming considerably more demanding than ever before because the nature of judging, particularly at first instance in civil and family cases, is changing in character”.

The increase in LiPs is making many hearings “far more inquisitorial in nature”, he explained.

“Nowadays, district judges are often required not only to decide the outcome of a case but also, to tease out from the parties the issues, then establish the facts, ascertain the area of law involved and then determine the outcome following statute and common law.”

One problem with self-representation, he suggested, is that not having lawyers involved removes the possibility of settlement.

Judge Godwin continued: “The greater amount of time required now to dispatch individual cases… is placing a greater burden upon judges and is increasing the weight of responsibility. All this at a time when the remuneration package of many younger judges are being savagely cut.

“It should not be overlooked that, following appointment, judges cannot return to being solicitors or barristers and therefore have little alternative but to cope with a much less remunerative career that they had contemplated when becoming judges whilst also having to accept the heavier burdens of the job brought about for the reasons stated.

“In these circumstances it can be of little surprise that the morale of the judiciary is currently at an all-time low. District judges are committed, however, to continue to maintain the highest standards at all times to ensure that justice can be delivered.

“The forthcoming restrictions imposed upon the availability of legal aid threatens to have far-reaching implications in the way civil and family cases are conducted that will, undoubtedly, place a greater burden than ever upon the judiciary of Wales and England, although they will be overcome.”

District Judge Robert Jordan, who sits at Leeds Combined Court Centre, has become the association’s senior vice-president, and District Judge Julie Exton, who sits at Bristol County Court, junior vice-president.