Backlog means courts could be clogged until NEXT YEAR: More than half a million cases are outstanding amid backlash from barristers over plans to help end the delays with longer hours
Court cases are being put back until 2022 as a massive backlog builds up, law officials revealed yesterday.
More than 53,000 crown court cases are outstanding in England and Wales, while the figure is 479,000 for criminal cases in magistrates’ courts, bringing the total to well over 500,000.
David Greene, president of the Law Society, which represents solicitors, said: ‘Justice is already being delayed for victims, witnesses and defendants, who have proceedings hanging over them for months, if not years, with trials now being listed for 2022.’ It comes amid a backlash from barristers over plans to help clear the backlog with longer court hours.
Court cases are being put back until 2022 as a massive backlog builds up, law officials revealed yesterday. More than 53,000 crown court cases are outstanding in England and Wales (stock image)
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) yesterday said plans to hold two hearings a day in the same courtroom rather than one, by beginning at 9am rather than 10.30am and running until 6pm, will put its members at increased risk of coronavirus. The CBA is already preparing to launch legal action over the proposals and its members could refuse to take part in hearings ‘as a final resort’, a spokesman said.
James Mulholland QC, the CBA chairman, said: ‘It has always appeared highly illogical to suggest the introduction of extended operating hours in the midst of a pandemic. Doubling the volume of human traffic through the same restricted space for a significantly longer period than normal during the course of a day brings added risk of infection.’ Instead, he said additional trials should be conducted in space available elsewhere. He added: ‘A much greater number of public buildings need to be used and, where possible, secure docks introduced. The issue of cost can no longer take precedence over safety and justice.’
He also called for more virus testing in courts: ‘If testing was made available for the lorry drivers piling up at Dover and other ports before Christmas, it must be made available to help address backlogs as trials queue up for a courtroom.’
David Greene (pictured), president of the Law Society, which represents solicitors, said: ‘Justice is already being delayed for victims, witnesses and defendants, who have proceedings hanging over them for months, if not years, with trials now being listed for 2022’
The organisation has written to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, asking it to carry out an assessment of whether extended hours would discriminate against barristers with children, especially women, and against the disabled or ethnic minorities. It is also looking at a possible judicial review of the measures. A CBA spokesman said: ‘As a final resort our members may consider a walk-out.’
Mr Greene of the Law Society said: ‘Given the higher transmissibility of the new variant it is even more important to roll out further Nightingale courts. Increasing the number of locations where cases can be held is a safer way of generating more capacity than forcing more people into the existing court buildings which are often old and do not allow for social distancing.’
The extended hours plan is expected to allow an extra 40 trials per month across ten courts.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the plans ‘have been designed to ensure no individual is required to work longer hours’. They added other plans to boost court capacity and ensure recovery include ‘employing 1,600 more staff, rolling out technology, and creating a further 40 Nightingale court rooms’.