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Second Lockdown Pressures Courts?

With England and Wales Justice system already at breaking point, what effect will a second lockdown have on the court system?

It is no secret that the Justice System in the UK has been struggling for years now, with progressively more cases coming through the courts and high government cuts to the system, it was inevitable that there will come a time when the system would no longer be able to cope.

The question is are we at that point?

A study carried out by Crest Advisory showed that currently, 104,000 cases are waiting to be heard over county and magistrates courts. Continue the way the system is going and by 2024 there will be a backlog of 195,500[1] cases in the County Courts and 580,300.[2]

Can our courts cope?

The study looked at how the courts are currently running, charging by the police, the CPS, and analysing the prison system and probation. This gave the analysis, the whole package to conclude how Covid-19 has impacted the whole of the system, not just the courts.

As Crest explained, “Improving performance in one area places pressure on other parts of the system”. [3]

The study advised that to bring stability to the court system, the number of available courts needed to double, as well as reducing the time it takes to conclude a case and reducing the volume of cases heard.

However, this analysis which was released on the 30th October 2020 has not taken into account the second lockdown announced by Prime Minister on the 31st October.

The Lockdown which is initially expected to last from the 5th November to the 2nd December will allow the courts to remain open.

Nightingale Courts

A press release, published by the government on the 29th of October set out their plans for the new nightingale courts which are opening up across the county. The two latest courts to open in Liverpool and Winchester are the latest plans of the government to help release some of the pressure on the court system.

There is now a total of 19 nightingale courts with 29 courtrooms available. The government has also issued a statement advising they are investing £80m in the courts.

However technical issues throughout courts, between departments, and getting defendants to courthouses are also having an impact and slowing cases down.

It was noted by the study, however, that the nightingale courts only ran 5 jury trial based cases during October. This may rise with time, but with only an additional 5 cases a month being heard at these additional courts then they won’t go far enough to help with the backlog.

The potential impact of Covid-19

The Ministry of Justice has tried to defend the study and said the figures were ‘extreme’. Whilst the study did show the worst-case scenario they showed from baseline as well.

In their summing up, Crest Advisory said, “We are only just beginning to understand the potential impact of Covid-19 on the criminal justice system. Without fundamental reform and significant investment in the upcoming Spending Review, there is a real risk it may cease to function in any meaningful sense in the coming years”

With Covid-19 rates rising daily, just how long can courts sustain being open?

With a second lockdown looming over England and with the uncertainty of how long it will last, the courts are in unprecedented times.

Whilst the courts are remaining open it remains to be seen just how much of an impact a second lockdown will have on the criminal justice system.

Written By: Victoria-Jayne Scholes

News Editor

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