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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

'Herculean effort': Lord Chancellor praises justice system's 'hidden heroes'

'Herculean effort': Lord Chancellor praises justice system's 'hidden heroes'


Buckland said those working in the justice system 'kept the wheels of justice turning' during pandemic

The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, today (Friday 4 June) outlined a court and tribunals recovery plan in a speech given at the Law Society. 

He thanked the “hidden heroes” of the pandemic, “Those who have worked so hard... court and tribunal staff, the judiciary, and many others working across the justice system…[and] legal professionals working across all our jurisdictions”. 

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce commented: “I echo the Lord Chancellor’s praise of the hidden heroes of the legal profession – solicitors, barristers, judges and other court professionals’ outstanding efforts have kept the wheels of justice turning during the pandemic.

“Face-masked and socially distanced, solicitors have been there every step of the way, helping people, businesses and government uphold their rights and meet their responsibilities, ensuring access to justice and upholding the rule of law.”

Buckland described the last 15 months as a “Herculean effort”. 

He reported a quarter of a billion pounds had been made available by the government “not only to keep the wheels of justice turning, but to propel them forward at a pace that would help tackle the number of outstanding cases, particularly in the criminal courts”. 

He said money was spent “on people, equipment and buildings” and said that 1,600 extra court staff had been recruited, with more to come; 60 new nightingale court rooms in hotels, theatres and football stadiums are planned; and alterations were also made to buildings to ensure they could safely accommodate people to “hold larger trials”.

The money also funded a technology roll out that facilitated remote hearings, with up to 20,000 hearings being heard each week, reportedly a record number.

The Lord Chancellor described these achievements as “truly remarkable achievements, almost unthinkable fifteen months or so ago”.

However, he also acknowledged that there was more work to be done. He said: “…it is important that we are frank about the scale of the challenges that remain. 

“The number of cases waiting to be heard in the criminal courts right now is at historically high levels. That cannot – and will not – be allowed to continue.”
Boyce agreed: “We welcome the Lord Chancellor’s remarks that historically high levels of outstanding cases in the criminal courts cannot be allowed to continue.

“The crisis in our courts and tribunals is far from over. 

“Significant investment is essential if victims, witnesses, defendants and the public at large are to have the justice system they deserve.”

The Lord Chancellor said he was “prepared to do everything within my power as Lord Chancellor” to enable the courts to hear cases more quickly so both victims and defendants secure resolution “as quickly as possible”.

Details were outlined of the new ‘super courtrooms’ set to be launched in Manchester and Loughborough in September. 

Buckland also confirmed that “for the next year at least”, Crown Courts will be authorised to work “at full throttle, to their maximum capacity”. 

He said technology will play an “enduring role” going forward and that live links and sound infrastructure will be extended in criminal proceedings. 

He added the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill provides an opportunity “to put these changes on a permanent legislative footing – so that the press and public can attend cases that are taking place remotely via video and audio technology”. 

The Lord Chancellor also expressed a desire to “re-define the nature of dispute resolution… I want parties to look beyond litigation at the faster and simpler alternatives… such as mediation and conciliation.”

He concluded: “What I want is to create a system that is more dynamic and more efficient for all those who use it – so that we can open it up to more people, give everyone a better chance to seek justice and, in the process, build back a fairer country.”

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