Crown Court backlogs: how would case increases impact practitioners?

Companies have reported that the difficulties presented by the pandemic have strained an already crisis system.

The companies cited existing problems with court rosters, court closures, restrictions on the number of sitting days and trials adjourned on short notice.

The systemic underfunding of criminal legal aid defense attorneys has led to:

  • recruitment and retention difficulties at all points of the system,
  • fewer lawyers are choosing criminal legal aid work due to lower incomes, and
  • more hours associated with work

Experienced staff are said to have been lost to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which offers higher salaries and more social hours, and suitably qualified lawyers serving as clerks to cover the backlog as the Court reduces the number of judges.

“Unfortunately, there are no judges, clerks, legal advisers or lawyers to run these courts because those who die or retire have never been replaced.”

Consult our map of criminal lawyer shortages

How companies plan to handle the increase

Working longer hours was the most cited approach to dealing with the increase in cases (41%). However, some companies were already working long hours.

Just under 30% of responses focused on recruitment – ​​new litigants (12%), new support staff (10%) or new lawyers (7%).

Opinions were divided as to whether this is a short or long term problem.

For those who see it as a short-term problem, hiring new staff or paying extra to existing staff is not financially viable as it would increase overhead and lead to costly layoffs when courts regain capacity.

Companies cite recruitment challenges due to low pay rates and lack of available talent:

“We have tried, but without success, to recruit additional staff, whether qualified lawyers or support staff. There are no new lawyers entering the workforce willing to undertake this work, due to the unsocial long hours and difficult nature of the work and low financial rewards. We cannot afford to hire new support staff as their salary expectations are higher than what we can afford at the legal aid rate so we are not able to compete with the industry public.

“We are already struggling financially after years of fee reductions and the pandemic. We cannot afford to recruit.