Criminal justice

Rapid investment needed to tackle unacceptable court delays

Widespread investment is needed to ensure there is capacity in the criminal justice system to tackle the courts backlog and ensure access to justice for victims and defendants, say solicitors’ leaders.

The Law Society of England and Wales’s warning comes as the Public Accounts Committee today published a report questioning the UK government’s "meagre ambition" of cutting the number of outstanding Crown Court cases to 53,000.

“The report echoes the concerns we have long been raising about the backlog plaguing our criminal courts which is leaving victims and defendants waiting too long to get the justice they deserve,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“Lengthy delays in even the most serious trials coming to court mean a traumatised victim can be left waiting years to see their assailant locked up, while an innocent defendant can find their life in limbo while they wait to clear their name.

“Our duty solicitor heatmaps and workload survey illustrate the retention and recruitment crisis in the criminal defence profession.*

“Years of underinvestment and cuts mean there is a real risk that the capacity is simply not there in terms of solicitors and barristers, as well as judges, to do the large volume of work necessary to clear the backlog in a meaningful fashion.

“Investment is needed now across the entire criminal justice system, starting with the immediate implementation of the 15% increase in criminal legal aid rates recommended in Sir Christopher Bellamy’s Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid.

“If this does not happen, we fear that our members will leave the market at ever faster rates, which will seriously compromise the government’s ability to clear the huge backlog in the criminal courts and reduce the unacceptable delays being faced by victims, witnesses and defendants.

“Ensuring that any barriers preventing diverse candidates from getting opportunities in the profession are tackled, as well as recruiting from diverse talent pools of fee-paid and salaried judges in courts and tribunals, will help to build the capacity needed to clear the backlog.

“As the report rightly points out, 20,000 new police officers are only going to add to the criminal court workload. You can pour all the money you like into policing and prosecution but without a healthy criminal defence profession, British justice will cease to exist and it’s the public who will suffer.”

Notes to editors

Read our survey on the capacity of firms to deal with the Crown Court backlog

As of 10 February 2022, there were just 1,062 firms holding a criminal legal aid contract compared with 1,652 in April 2012.

Read the Public Accounts Committee report

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS