Court closures have ‘significantly contributed’ to the backlog, and the government needs to contemplate reopening recently closed courts to expand capacity.
In recently published evidence to the public accounts committee, it has been identified that 11 court buildings which have recently closed but not yet been sold, ‘could potentially be opened at a minimal cost’. The reopening of these courts ‘would also contribute to their local economies, combining economic renewal and access to justice’, it stated.
The Law Society additionally proposed that the government should ‘commit to fully funding court repairs so existing court rooms are not closed due to maintenance issues’, which would be ‘another relatively inexpensive way of boosting capacity in the courts’.
Chancery Lane has backed measures introduced to address the backlog, including Nightingale courts, extra investment in the justice system and the dismissal of the cap on sitting days. However, it alerted that ‘the shortage of judges, court staff and practitioners to attend cases is becoming a serious concern that will affect efforts to lower the criminal courts backlog if it is not addressed through long-term investment’.
‘Because the system has been underfunded for so long, it will not be possible to generate the necessary additional capacity quickly, but if left unaddressed the problem will only grow,’ the Law Society detailed.
The shortage of resources available to defend solicitors will also ‘limit efforts to tackle the backlog’, it continued, with multiple firms currently working at full capacity and therefore unable to ‘support a greater number of cases’.
The Society highlighted that, while the backlog was ‘worsened and exacerbated’ due to the pandemic, the issue pre-dates it. ‘The backlogs primarily lie in prolonged underinvestment in the justice system, including capping the number of court sitting days, reductions in court capacity and court rooms remaining idle in recent years,’ it reported.
The obligation to expand the Ministry of Justice’s budget by £2.2 billion over the spending round was also encouraged, but the Society stated ‘this level of investment must continue and must extend to all parts of the criminal justice system’ in order to bring the backlog ‘down to manageable levels’.