Criminal justice

Budget must deliver to beat the criminal court backlog

Next week’s budget must deliver the investment desperately needed for the criminal court backlog to be tackled, the Law Society of England and Wales has warned.

The warning follows a National Audit Office (NAO) report published today (22 October), which says delays are likely to be a pervasive issue severely affecting victims, witnesses and defendants for several years.

“The NAO’s comprehensive report, which the Law Society contributed to, confirms the concerns we have been expressing about the state of the criminal justice system since before Covid-19,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“It highlights the lack of capacity and the dire need for investment, resulting from years of cuts including court closures, underfunding of legal aid and caps on judicial sitting days – all exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Next week’s budget must deliver the investment needed to ensure victims, witnesses and defendants are able to get timely access to justice.

“A traumatised victim can be left waiting years to see their assailant locked up, while a falsely accused defendant can find their life in limbo while they wait to clear their name.

“As the report suggests, court recovery ‘hinges on securing funding and resources’ and, even with investment, this is a long-term problem which won’t be solved overnight.

“HM Courts and Tribunals Service put in a tremendous effort in the early stages of the pandemic to keep the wheels of justice turning and we supported the introduction of Nightingale courts to help boost capacity whilst social distancing restrictions were in place.

“We are now in a position where physical capacity is increasing but there aren’t enough judges, court staff and advocates for enough trials to take place.

“The impact of the delays on legal aid solicitors and barristers has been stark and more and more overworked and underpaid criminal lawyers are leaving the profession.

“Increased funding following the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid is vital to ensuring the long-term future of criminal defence lawyers.

“We support the NAO recommendation for a joined-up approach to court recovery and a plan to tackle any barriers to efficient collection and sharing of data.”

Notes to editors

Read the National Audit Office report

About the Law Society

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Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100

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