Page last updated at 22:29 GMT, Monday, 31 March 2008 23:29 UK

Judge says courts 'overstretched'

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers on being sworn in as Master of the Rolls
Lord Phillips said the courts are "seriously overstretched"

The most senior judge in England and Wales has said a "stream" of legislation had contributed to courts being "seriously overstretched".

In his annual review of the courts, The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, said some legislation reflects the "politicisation" of sentencing.

And he said a new judicial appointments system had caused a shortage of judges.

The Judicial Appointments Commission said average waiting times for new judges had been reduced.

A spokeswoman for the body, which is involved in the new system for appointing judges, said: "The Judicial Appointments Commission has reduced the average time for the stages under its control - from closing date for applications to submission of selections to the Lord Chancellor - from 24 weeks under the former DCA to 19 weeks."

Court buildings

In his report, the judge highlighted various reasons for the problems, including a series of computer glitches.

In addition to the shortage of judges caused by the new appointments system, he also cited a backlog in repairs to court buildings.

"It is vital that the system is better placed to phase the implementation of new appointments to take over from those being replaced within a shorter period of time," he said.

The judge added that the state of the 700 buildings in the court estate was an area of "ever-growing concern".

According to his report, the maintenance backlog stands at 200m, of which 90m was required for "urgent operational requirements".

Prison numbers

BBC Home Affairs Correspondent Danny Shaw said: "Although he doesn't say so directly, he [Lord Phillips] also appears to blame the government - for introducing too many new laws for political motives."

Lord Phillips said the task of those passing sentences has been made "infinitely more complex by a stream of legislation".

Ministers are currently considering plans for a commission to regulate sentences to control prison numbers.

But Lord Phillips warned that it must not "fetter the judge's discretion" to impose sentences which reflect the different circumstances of each case.


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