Society and Bar join forces to condemn backlog plans
By Monidipa Fouzder >>
The government’s proposals to tackle the 40,000-strong backlog of Crown court cases will threaten the credibility of the justice system, the Law Society and Bar Council allege today.
Extended hours will be introduced from this month and legislation to abolish some jury trials could be passed within weeks.
In a strongly-worded joint statement issued today, Law Society president Simon Davis and Bar Council chair Amanda Pinto QC said they would not support any steps to remove jury trials. Extending court hours would come at a big financial cost to the taxpayer, and adversely affect lawyers – especially those with caring responsibilities and black, Asian and minority ethnic practitioners who are at greater risk of Covid-19.
Davis and Pinto said they were alarmed by the size of the backlog but said it was approaching 40,000 prior to the pandemic because the government did not fund the judicial time needed. Opening courts for longer, including Saturdays and Sundays, and interfering with jury trials ‘present a threat to the credibility of our justice system’, they said.
The duo said they had not seen any government modelling to support the erosion of jury trials. If court hours are to be extended, they asked who would pay for the court staff, judges, probation officers and security staff to attend court. They also pointed out that victims and witnesses would find it difficult to get to court or return home safely. Solicitors on call to police stations out of hours would struggle with the additional workload and many have been furloughed because there is no income to pay their salaries.
Davis and Pinto backed a ‘multi-faceted approach’ to increasing court capacity – more efficient use of the current court estate, part-time judges, robust technology and additional court buildings similar to the ‘Nightingale’ hospitals.
They said: ‘These “Blackstone” courts would use public or private buildings currently lying idle. Local barristers and solicitors are identifying suitable buildings to add to the court. This combination of solutions would allow safe distancing in existing buildings, add overall capacity to the number of court rooms, and be convenient for participants.
‘We urge the Ministry of Justice to work at pace with us to find practical and sensible ways to address the volume of cases being heard. It is only if or when this multi-faceted exercise has been shown not to address the volume of outstanding cases that the government should even consider tampering with constitutional and established methods of determining justice.
‘Barristers and solicitors will continue to play their fundamental part in keeping the justice system afloat. We are already adopting new ways of working successfully to drive justice forward but the rule of law must not be undermined. We will not support any steps to remove the right to jury trials.’
(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)