Operation Early Dawn: an update for members

We're updating members on the new measures being taken by the lord chancellor to deal with the increasing prison population.
An image of cells in a British prison.
© Image: Gannet77
Update - 24 May 2024

The National Update Office has today published a report explaining what has caused the significant backlog of criminal court cases.

The report highlights the decline in lawyers working in criminal defence due to a reduction in legal aid fees, stress and poor working conditions.

On the report, our president Nick Emmerson said: “Urgent action is needed, including sustained investment across the criminal justice system, to ensure timely justice for all.

“If the government had listened to our warnings sooner, it would not have found itself in the critical state we now see with emergency measures being taken to deal with the crisis over prison spaces.

“The poor handling of Operation Early Dawn highlights the need for better engagement with legal professionals when such emergency measures are introduced. Solutions to the backlog will only be found if there is cooperation and communication with all those who work in the criminal justice system.”

We have been made aware that from today (15 May) the lord chancellor is triggering an emergency measure, Operation Early Dawn, to deal with the worsening problem of the prison population.

Many magistrates' court cases will be delayed. Practitioners will not know if their clients’ cases will be delayed for sure until they get there.

This particular impact will be caused by a triage process for defendants being transferred from police custody suites to the magistrates' courts and then likely to be transferred to prison.

We understand priority will be given to defendants in the most serious cases.

We understand that defendants who are not prioritised will be released on police bail.

We are awaiting further urgent information from HM Courts and Tribunals Service and the Ministry of Justice to clarify the practical implications of this decision, including how they will deal with the issue of the wasted costs members may incur in these circumstances.

We will update members in due course.

Update - 16 May 2024
HMCTS has today issued a letter responding to the contingencies in the magistrates' courts. However, there remains too many unanswered questions as to how this policy works in practice.

Solicitors, please continue to share your experiences including any financial impact you have faced as a result of this emergency measure, by emailing campaigns@lawsociety.org.uk.