Lord Chief Justice to retire next year after six years

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, has announced his retirement  (PA Archive)
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, has announced his retirement (PA Archive)

The Lord Chief Justice has revealed plans to retire next year after six years as the most senior judge in England and Wales.

Lord Burnett of Maldon was appointed to the role by the late Queen in 2017 and told King Charles III earlier this month that he will step down on September 30 2023, making him the longest-serving Lord Chief Justice in the last 30 years.

Announcing the decision on Thursday, Lord Burnett, 64, said he intends to continue working in different roles but “at a less frenetic pace”.

He was instrumental in steering the justice system through Covid, when many courts were able to remain open despite lockdown restrictions, and he has spoken out repeatedly about the need for greater funding to protect the justice system.

A successor has not yet been announced, to a role which was created in 1880 and has never been held by a woman.

In his announcement, Lord Burnett said he took on the role knowing that six years was “probably realistic given the additional responsibility that the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 placed on the Lord Chief Justice of the day.

“I made my final decision on the timing many months ago.

“It has been a great privilege to serve as Lord Chief Justice. I have been honoured to lead a wholly independent judiciary dedicated to the rule of law, the administration of justice and public service which confidently celebrates its traditions yet has quietly assimilated very many modern working practices.

“We have transformed judicial welfare and education and introduced professional support which was lacking in the old arrangements inherited from the Lord Chancellor’s Department by the Judicial Office.

“We have become much more active in local communities and schools and have a diversity and inclusion strategy which will continue to deliver results.

“In a period of some instability, Covid presented the greatest challenge which any of us has faced in recent memory. The judicial response to the emergency was magnificent and the close working relationship which developed between judges, the Ministry of Justice and its ministers, and staff in the courts and tribunals showed what can be done. All rose to the challenge.

“The pandemic brought our work on modernisation into sharp relief and has resulted in the use of technology for hearings, including remote attendance, which might have taken many years otherwise to achieve.

“The judiciary has supported the delivery of the courts and tribunals Modernisation Programme and will continue to do so.”

He said recent challenges have included tackling the rising court backlogs and persuading politicians to make changes to judicial pensions to encourage better recruitment.

Difficulties in hiring new judges has led to a shortage, with retired judges being brought back to help deal with the backlogs.

“There is much to do before I leave office”, added the Lord Chief Justice.

“I shall continue to work constructively with all those whose contributions are vital to the administration of justice. I look forward to continuing to provide service after I leave this role working at a less frenetic pace.”

Lord Burnett, who was educated at Oxford and called to the Bar in 1980, was previously head of Temple Garden Chambers and appointed as a QC in 1998.

His final case at the Bar before joining the High Court was as counsel to the inquests into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi al Fayed.