BLOG / Government Considers Measures to Tackle Criminal Cases Backlog
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has published a recovery plan covering courts and tribunals, detailing the range of measures being considered. The plan comes at the same time as a report highlighting court backlogs from the HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI), the official body tasked with inspecting the CPS and the Serious Fraud Office.
Trial backlogs in the Magistrates’ Court increased by 41% between the beginning of March and the end of May. Backlogs in the Crown Court have increased by an estimated 53%, to over 40,000 cases. Delays in the court system have been described as “highly detrimental to justice” by the HMCPSI.
Changes to jury trial
Juries may be allowed to sit with as few as 7 members, rather than the traditional 12 (with 10 being the minimum allowed to reach a verdict). Alternative plans, including removing the right to jury trial for certain either-way offences, appear to have been dropped by the MoJ.
The report from HMCPSI recognises that virtual courts “have become the norm nationally”, despite the reported failures of earlier attempts to encourage courts to go virtual. The MoJ recently announced £142m spending on court maintenance and technology. Its plan suggests increasing the use of audio and visual technology for more and new types of hearings.
Extending court days
Extended court days will be explored, to increase capacity and help address the backlog in cases. The MoJ plans to reopen all remaining courts and tribunals in July 2020. Simon Davis, President of the Law Society of England and Wales, put on record his opposition to the proposal to extend sitting hours for courts.
The Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, has announced 10 emergency “Nightingale courts” are being set up, to increase capacity. He has opted to name them “Blackstone courts” after William Blackstone, 18th century judge and jurist.