New Lord Chief Justice backs judicial independence

The new Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Philips of Worth Matravers, today (11 October) affirmed his commitment to the independence of the judiciary in a year when he takes over the judicial responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor.

Speaking at a media briefing today Lord Philips said: “My concern is to make sure that the judges are doing their jobs properly. I intend to keep out of politics.”

When the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 comes into force in April the Lord Chief Justice will represent the views of the judiciary to Parliament, the Lord Chancellor and other ministers. He will also be responsible for providing welfare, training and guidance for the judiciary using the resources allocated by the Lord Chancellor.

Lord Philips said that “omens are favourable” that money may soon be available for the development of a new Commercial Court, adding that there was a “strong business case” for it.

Commenting on the Woolf Reforms, which were criticised by former IP judge Sir Hugh Laddie this week in The Lawyer (10 October), Lord Philips said: “Case management is vital both in criminal and civil procedures. The Woolf Reforms have changed the whole ethos of dispute resolution. There is much less wasteful infighting; cases are being heard more quickly.”

But he added: “There is still a problem with the cost of civil litigation.”

Criminal legal aid is also a concern, Lord Philips said. He added that judges were “anxious” as to what the implications of the current refusal of criminal barristers to accept instructions may be.

The Lord Chief Justice said he will sit regularly in all three divisions of the High Court – criminal, civil and family – but he has appointed the president of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir Igor Judge, to be head of criminal justice in order to focus in this field.

Lord Woolf retired as Lord Chief Justice on 30 September.