The Supreme Court is to get two extra judges as it seeks to manage one of the busiest case loads in the world that has created a four-year backlog.
The Cabinet has approved the legal changes needed to make the extra appointments. When finalised, the move will bring the total number of judges sitting at the highest court in the country to 10.
Cases are taking up to four years to get through the final appeal stage in the system and the waiting list at the Court of Criminal Appeal has gone over 15 months.
The move has been welcomed by Chief Justice Susan Denham, who had sought to reorganise sittings to manage an exceptional surge in demand for appeals in recent years.
“[This will allow the court to] organise two divisions of the Supreme Court to sit more extensively than at present, and also enable a Supreme Court judge to preside in the Court of Criminal Appeal more frequently,” she said.
The volume of commercial cases which arose during the economic crash flooded the High Court system and forced more efficient systems to emerge in the Commercial Court.
But the inevitable backlog has now helped to swamp the Supreme Court.
Alan Shatter, the justice minister, has already proposed a referendum, to be held in the autumn, to establish a dedicated court of appeal to help streamline civil appeals.
However, he said the current system still needed to be improved in order to ensure appeals are heard and judgments are delivered in a timely fashion.
“This measure will underpin the ongoing process of court reform which is essential to maintaining our competitiveness and upholding citizens’ rights under both the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said.
Last year, the Supreme Court received 600 new appeals which was up from 500 the previous year.
Chief Justice Denham has already had to stop accepting priority cases as the volume on this list had already grown to 70.
“These proposed appointments will act as a welcome, interim measure to tackling waiting times in advance of the establishment of a court of appeal,” she said.
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