Court reform

Measures to tackle 560,000 criminal case backlog welcomed by the Law Society

Eight new Nightingale courts* and 1,600 additional staff unveiled by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the Ministry of Justice to help tackle the huge backlog of criminal cases have been welcomed by the Law Society of England and Wales.

At the end of July 2020, HMCTS figures showed the criminal case backlog stood at more than 560,000 across the magistrates and crown courts.**

“After years of underfunding and cuts, there was already a significant backlog in the criminal courts, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Law Society of England and Wales president Simon Davis.

“Justice is being delayed for victims, witnesses and defendants, who have proceedings hanging over them for months, if not years, with some trials now being listed for 2022.

“We therefore welcome the steps taken to boost court capacity by opening additional Nightingale courts and hope to see them up and running as soon as possible.

“Plans to recruit 1,600 extra staff to support the recovery and to use video technology wherever appropriate, to allow more cases to be heard remotely, are also welcome.

“When considering any use of extended court hours, the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS must ensure that it is making maximum use of normal court hours and the existing court estate, quickly take up further building space and avoid any restrictions on judges sitting while there are court rooms (real, virtual or Nightingale) available.

“Investing in legal aid for early advice and legal representation would help to nip problems in the bud before they escalate and ensure judicial time is used as efficiently as possible in cases which do go to court.”

The Ministry of Justice has also announced plans to increase custody time limits by 56 days, meaning defendants can be kept on remand for an additional eight weeks.

“It is important that defendants – who may be innocent – are kept on remand for as short a time as possible, and that victims and witnesses are not kept waiting unnecessarily for resolution,” said Simon Davis.

“It is therefore vital that the government deals with the backlog expeditiously and makes it unnecessary for people to be held for long periods awaiting trial.”

“Any steps taken to tackle the backlog must be taken against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic,” added Simon Davis.

“The priority must remain the safety of all court users and we reiterate the importance of ensuring risk assessments are kept updated and readily available for those who request them.”

Notes to editors

Read the government's announcement

*View our interactive map of the currently operational Nightingale courts

**View the HMCTS figures

About the Law Society

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Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100

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