Further measures to tackle criminal case backlog
By Nicola Laver
The MoJ has announced new measures including eight new Nightingale courts to deal with the significant criminal case backlog
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced new measures including eight new Nightingale courts to deal with the significant criminal case backlog.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the MoJ also announced plans to recruit 1,600 additional staff; and to use video technology where possible.
The case backlog across the crown courts and magistrates’ courts numbered more than 560,000 by the end of this July, according to HMCTS figures.
The Law Society welcomed the steps taken to “boost court capacity” through the new courts and hoped to “see them up and running as soon as possible”.
Ten Nightingale courts are already operational.
The government also announced a temporary measure to extend custody time limits by two months for those arrested for serious crimes.
This will remain for nine months.
The Society’s president Simon Davis said: “After years of underfunding and cuts, there was already a significant backlog in the criminal courts, which has been exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic.”
“Justice is being delayed for victims, witnesses and defendants, who have proceedings hanging over them for months, if not years, with some trials now being listed for 2022”, he added.
However, he added: “The priority must remain the safety of all court users and we reiterate the importance of ensuring risk assessments are kept updated and readily available for those who request them.”
The MoJ also confirmed it is continuing to explore new ‘covid operating hours’ beyond the usual times.
A pilot is underway at Liverpool Crown Court where there are two lists operating in one courtroom – one in the morning from 9am to 1pm, and then from 2pm to 6pm.
Davis warned that when considering any use of extended court hours, the MoJ and HMCTS must ensure that maximum use is being made of normal court hours and the existing court estate, “quickly take up further building space and avoid any restrictions on judges sitting while there are court rooms (real, virtual or Nightingale) available”.
He added that investing in legal aid for early advice and legal representation would help “nip problems in the bud before they escalate and ensure judicial time is used as efficiently as possible in cases which do go to court”.
Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett said: “The pandemic has had an adverse impact on the timeliness of the criminal justice system, with many trials necessarily delayed.
“This plan is an important document which gives a clear path towards recovery as the judges and magistrates, in partnership with HM Courts Service, the Ministry of Justice and many others, strive to ensure that cases are heard as soon as possible in the public interest and the interests of all those involved in the criminal process.”
Legislation is expected to come into force on 28 September.