Mackay to tackle appeal backlog

LORD Mackay is considering an increase in the number of Appeal Court judges in response to a damning report on court delays by Sir Thomas Bingham.

The Master of the Rolls' review of the Civil Division's legal year has prompted the Lord Chancellor to bring forward a planned review of judicial strength in the Appeal Court by two years.

In his report Sir Thomas Bingham said the backlog of unheard appeals had continued to rise over the last legal year and would keep on growing.

He concluded there was an urgent need for “an increase in judicial strength” as the alternative was “delay of a length inconsistent with the due administration of justice”. A spokeswoman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said Lord Mackay was “equally concerned” about the situation.

She said he had appointed three extra judges earlier this year and had planned to allow time to assess how this decision, combined with recent procedural changes, would affect the backlog.

But she confirmed a further review of judicial numbers, originally planned for autumn 1997, would now take place immediately “given that the workload is still increasing”.

In his report, Bingham said that while the appointment of three extra judges had been very welcome, it was “half the number which I then judged necessary to begin reducing the backlog”.

“There was never any ground for hoping that three additional appointments would do more than slow the rate at which the backlog increased.

“So it has proved, despite the great contribution made by these additional Lord Justices.”

The report shows that the number of appeal applications and the number of disposed cases have both almost doubled over the past four years.

However, the backlog of cases has more than doubled, having risen from 468 in 1990-1991 to 1,183 in 1994-1995.