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Samantha Ramen

Samantha Ramen

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Justice Committee inquiry into court capacity

Client Alerts14/08/2020

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the backlog of cases waiting to go through the court. As the issue starts to get more attention, we ask what short and long-term solutions there are…

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of public buildings and restrictions on the UK population leaving their homes, the justice system in this country was facing significant issues in processing the requisite number of court cases. Primarily as a result of insufficient sitting days in existing courts, the backlog of cases has had significant knock-on effects on the vital work of the UK’s courts, its legal profession, and beyond.

The pandemic has only made things worse, and in recent weeks the government has moved to open 10 sites that can begin hearing cases on a temporary basis in order to alleviate the worst of the issues. These “Nightingale Courts” can hear civil, family and tribunals work as well as non-custodial crime cases of the kind that cannot be heard via remote technology.

The Government taking action on the worst of the backlog issues exacerbated by the pandemic will be welcomed by those within the profession who have seen the results of backlog first hand, and the Justice Committee of the House of Commons has also turned its attention to courts capacity with its inquiry on the issue.  

The Committee is seeking submissions on a range of matters related to courts capacity, including:

  • The impact of COVID-19 on court sitting days and the backlog of cases, including whether the one-off additional funding and 4,500 additional days provided for 2020/21 is sufficient along with staffing and recruitment issues;
  • Practical experience of delay in Crown and other courts among lawyers, witnesses, victims and defendants and whether there is appropriate access to justice;
  • The extent to which courts have appropriate capacity post COVID-19, including the extent to which courtrooms are idle across England and Wales;
  • Long-term solutions to reduce delay in cases coming to trial, including the move to the digital transformation of the court estate.

The deadline for submissions is Monday 7 September, a week after Parliament returns from recess, and it is expected that the Committee will then start to call witnesses for oral evidence.

The Keoghs Market Affairs Team will draw on our lawyers’ experience of the court system, and are currently working on pulling together a submission to the inquiry. This, we hope, will assist the Committee (and ultimately the Government) in its efforts to develop long term solutions to the issues surrounding court capacity.