Sustained Investments Needed for Courts to Recover

The Justice Committee published the UK government’s response to its report on court capacity yesterday (7 July). England and Wales.

Legal arrears and legal aid

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

“More than a quarter of the cases pending at the Crown Court have been open for a year or more. It is simply unacceptable that victims, witnesses and defendants still have to wait so long to access justice.**

“After years of underfunding and cutbacks, there are not enough judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys to handle this huge workload.

“Legal aid tariffs urgently need to rise, or we will see more and more criminal defense lawyers, lawyers and law firms leaving for good, when they are the more needed.

“At the heart of the justice system is the public trying to access justice. Both civil and criminal litigants are facing unprecedented and unacceptable delays.

“Mediation – which has been pushed by the government as a response to reducing the family court backlog – is only one solution.

“Early legal advice for family law cases should be reinstated, so that fewer cases go to court and lawyers can instead help with negotiated settlements, referral to mediation and better manage customer expectations.

Judicial domain and judicial reform

“We have been raising the dilapidated state of our courthouses for some time now and our members – and all court users – need more clarity on what the government intends to do about it” , said I. Stephanie Boyce.

“When there is such a large backlog, the criminal justice system cannot afford to lose sitting days due to heating failures, for example.

“We also question whether the court reform program can be completed within the suggested time frame. The end date remains unchanged despite the suspension of many projects during the pandemic.

“Rushing the rollout of services risks them not being fit for purpose and besieged by problems, as we have seen with Common Platform – the new court case management system.

“There should be transparency about what can realistically be achieved rather than risking further pressure on the judicial service when it is already struggling with delays and administrative pressures.”

Data gathering

“We would welcome improvements in the collection of forensic data and would emphasize the need to share this data in a timely, transparent manner and in a readable format,” said I. Stephanie Boyce.

“Continued engagement on proposals to improve justice services and ensure the re-establishment of courts is also critical to the success of these initiatives.

“We will continue to closely monitor how the government handles the current court capacity issue.”

Notes to Editors

• *Read justice committee report and the government answer

• **See quarterly criminal court statistics: January to March 2022

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