Courts hope to clear outstanding criminal cases by Easter

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Courts hope to clear outstanding criminal cases by Easter

The Government hopes to clear the backlog of court cases created during the coronavirus lockdown by Easter next year.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told the Commons Justice Committee he was “duty bound” to consider measures that could provide the court capacity needed to clear outstanding cases.

Mr Buckland claimed 100 per cent capacity, if not more, was required in order to deal with the caseload and get ahead of it.

He said: “We want to deal with this caseload in the next few months rather than years. We are confident that we can manage the magistrates caseload backlog this year, the crown court is somewhat more complex but we think that we can, with all the measures that we’ve talked about or a combination of them, deal with this problem by Easter of 2021.

“That’s the scale of the ambition.”

Before Covid-19 there were around 39,214 outstanding cases in crown courts and there were 406,610 in magistrates’ courts.

Currently 246 court buildings are open across the UK with 58 staffed by judges. Some 86 have reopened since the beginning of June but there are 37 buildings where operations are still suspended.

Some 19 crown courts are operating by spreading trials out across two or three rooms.

Mr Buckland faced questions over whether he would consider temporarily scrapping the use of juries for trials.

“I have to take a lot of persuading before there is even a temporary departure from the use of juries in our system,” he said.

He is “still very attracted” by the idea of using smaller juries, as were used during the Second World War when numbers were cut from 12 to seven except for murder and treason cases.

Mr Buckland said he was a “strong advocate” for the idea of the so-called Nightingale courts, where other buildings are used and was in the process of signing off a string of alternative venues.

Susan Acland-Hood, the chief executive of the Courts and Tribunal Service, said: “Even at one metre (social distancing), if we use the full capacity of the court system that we have we are still well below the level where we can get our disposals to equal the level receipts we expect to see.

“So the backlog will continue to grow for the foreseeable future unless we do something different.”

She said more than 200 extra buildings would need to be found, and to track down those suitable for jury trials where a defendant is in custody “feels extremely challenging”.

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