In this notice, I refer to the High Court’s plans in relation to a pilot project for the Long Vacation in 2024 (the “Pilot”).
The Judicial Planning Working Group (“JPWG”) in its Report of February 2023 recommended that consideration should be given to staggering the Long Vacation. The JPWG recommended that, rather than having a uniform Long Vacation for all High Court judges, running over August and September each year, there would be a level of flexibility such that, for some judges, the normal court sitting legal year would run from the beginning of October to the end of July while, for others, it would run from the beginning of September to the end of June (as noted below the requirement for judges to do vacation work at vacation sittings and the like will continue during the Pilot). The JPWG Report also recommended that, as an initial step, there should be a pilot project to test that recommendation.
The Government accepted the JPWG Report and its recommendations earlier this year. It has made clear that the appointment of the next set of additional judges recommended by the JPWG in 2024 will be heavily influenced by the implementation of the recommendations contained in the JPWG Report (including the Pilot). The JPWG recommended the appointment of six additional judges to the High Court in 2023 and, subject to various other conditions, six further additional High Court Judges in 2024. On 19th December, 2023, the last of the six additional judges for the High Court for 2023 was appointed.
The Chief Justice and the Presidents of all of the court jurisdictions welcomed the Government’s acceptance of the JPWG Report at the time. A Judicial Implementation Group, consisting of judges from all court jurisdictions, was established by the Chief Justice which is chaired by Mr. Justice Denis McDonald of the High Court. That Group reviews implementation of the JPWG recommendations.
Following initial consultation with the Judicial Implementation Group, with the judges in charge of the various High Court civil lists and with the Principal Registrar and her team of High court registrars and other court staff, it is appropriate that I now give notice that it is the intention of the High Court that the Pilot will be undertaken in the High Court in the Long Vacation in 2024. A number of judges have indicated their willingness to participate in the Pilot. For those judges who do participate, their normal court sitting legal year would end on Friday, 28th June, 2024 and begin again on Monday, 2nd September, 2024. Subject to the usual requirement on High Court judges to undertake a number of vacation sittings in July and August, they would, therefore, be free to take their summer break during the July – August 2024 period as well as using that period for other tasks, such as working on judgments, attending conferences and undertaking judicial training courses.
At this point, no final decision has been taken as to the precise number of judges who will be needed to participate in or as to the work to be done during the Pilot. However, it is likely that in or around five High Court judges will be involved. In addition, following the initial discussions referred to above, it appears likely that the work to be done in the Pilot will involve cases and applications from the Family, Non-Jury/Judicial Review/Asylum and Planning and Environment Lists of the High Court. No final decision has been made on that yet and some further work in that regard must be undertaken.
It is important to emphasise that during the currency of the Pilot, a significant majority of High Court Judges will continue to operate subject to the existing Long Vacation arrangements in 2024 so that, all other areas of work will continue under the existing arrangements. This means that there will still be a need for High Court vacation sittings in August and September 2024, to deal with urgent cases that arise during the Long Vacation as well as other specially assigned work. That work will continue in parallel with the work to be undertaken by the five or so judges participating in the Pilot.
With a view to finally determining the areas of work to be covered by the Pilot and the precise number of judges to be involved, I intend to consult with the Chair of the Bar Council and with the President of the Law Society and others early next term. I should stress, however, that we see the Pilot as something the High Court must proceed with in 2024 in light of the JPWG Report and recommendations.
It is my intention to ensure that the Pilot works efficiently and effectively and in a manner which best serves the interests of justice in the High Court.
21st December, 2023
Mr. Justice David Barniville
President of the High Court