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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Law Society: Sustained investment needed for courts to recover

Law Society: Sustained investment needed for courts to recover


The government has responded to the Justice Committee's report into court capacity

The Justice Committee yesterday (7 July) published the UK government’s response to its report into court capacity. The Law Society has warned that sustained investment is required to enable the overstretched justice system to recover from years of underfunding and cuts, exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Courts are now operating at full physical capacity, but the backlogs are decreasing at an extremely slow pace,” said Law Society president, I. Stephanie Boyce.

“More than a quarter of outstanding Crown Court cases have been open for a year or more. It is simply not acceptable that victims, witness and defendants are still having to wait so long to access justice.

“After years of underfunding and cuts there aren’t enough judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers to deal with this huge volume of work”.

Boyce said legal aid rates must increase as a matter of urgency, or there will be a permanent departure of more defence solicitors, barristers and law firms, at a time when they are needed the most.

“At the heart of the court system is the public trying to access justice. People in both the civil and criminal courts are facing unprecedented and unacceptable delays,” said Boyce.

She said mediation is only one solution. “Early legal advice for family law cases should be restored, so fewer cases go to court and solicitors can instead assist in negotiated settlements, referral to mediation and can better manage client expectations.”

Boyce also commented on the “crumbling state” of the court buildings. “When there is such a vast backlog, the criminal justice system can ill afford to lose sitting days because of heating failures for example.

“We also question whether the court reform programme can be completed in the timescale suggested. The end date remains unchanged despite many projects being paused during the pandemic.

“Rushing the roll out of services risks them not being fit for purpose and besieged with issues, as we have seen with Common Platform – the new courts case management system” said Boyce.

She called for transparency over what can realistically be achieved rather than risking additional strain on the court service when it is already struggling with delays and admin pressures.