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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Lord Chief Justice: cut jury size to tackle courts backlog

Lord Chief Justice: cut jury size to tackle courts backlog


Lord Burnett also suggested the courts' IT system belonged 'in the Science Museum'

The Lord Chief Justice has suggested juries should be made smaller to clear the pandemic backlog, which he said has led to “deeply damaging” delays in the justice system.

The delays and backlog in the justice system have been widely reported over the last year and the government confirmed the Magistrates’ and Crown Courts have been worst affected.

Crown Court jury trials were suspended for almost two months at the height of the pandemic; by May 2020, the Crown Court backlog had reached around 40,900 cases, compared with 33,600 in May 2019.

Lord Burnett of Maldon told The Telegraph: “an opportunity was missed to introduce a temporary reduction in jury size” at the outset of the pandemic.

During the Second World War, jury size was reduced from 12 to seven, except in trials for murder or treason.

Lord Burnett questioned: “Do some of the low-grade cases that go to the Crown Court really need as many as 12 [jurors]?”.

The Lord Chief Justice also commented on how the courts’ IT system also hampered progress: “You might think our system could produce an accurate figure of how many trials there were at the end of every day but they can’t.

“We are using clunking old systems that, frankly, should be in the Science Museum.”

Alex Case, public sector industry principal at Pegasystems, recently joined the company from a senior role overseeing cross-Whitehall Brexit delivery. He has also previously led major justice reform programmes.

In Case’s view, technology must be a part of the solution: “Artificial Intelligence coupled with intelligent automation will be the only way to address the significant backlogs facing the UK’s courts system.

“Using this technology, it is possible to prioritise and triage cases by quickly conducting intelligent risk assessments of each defendant using pre-determined rules and criteria.

He added: “While the UK’s criminal justice system has started to digitally transform, through the use of electronic case files and eliminating data siloes by unifying disparate data sources, more can be done to automate processes and make real-time decisions using pre-determined rules about a defendant’s pre-trial path.

“This approach will make sure the most significant cases and vulnerable individuals are dealt with first in an appropriate manner.”

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