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Court Backlog and Covid-19

Court Backlog and Covid-19

Let’s be clear, Coronavirus has not caused the backlog in the court system.  It was already there.  For those of us in the system, it was clear that the lack of investment coupled with court closures had already put the system under immense strain.

According to the BBC, even before Covid struck there were some 40,000 crown court cases waiting to be heard in England and Wales, and no fewer than 400,000 cases in the queue for magistrates’ hearings.

Then came Covid and ensuing chaos.

Jury trials were halted as social distancing became the norm.  Thousands of (unconvicted) prisoners awaiting trial were left out on a limb.  Not only were their trials delayed but defence solicitors struggled to communicate with them.  Visits were cancelled, video conferences were minimal and even telephone conversations difficult as many offices were shut.

The government is now full speed ahead in resuming jury trials or is it ?  The MOJ announced the introduction of “Nightingale Courts”.  They were designed to ease pressure on the system but have they done that ?  10 Courts were announced and 2 are currently open for business.

Some courts have re-opened for jury trials.  Manchester Crown Court is now shut https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/manchester-crown-court-remain-closed-18748827 due to positive covid tests of staff.

Is anyone really convinced that the backlog will be brought quickly under control ?

The origanisation “Fair Trials” https://www.fairtrials.org/news/commentary-covid-19-responses-undermining-fair-trial-rights-england-and-wales has published a response to a survey and concluded that courts and police stations across the country are failing to uphold basic fair trial rights under the stress of the pandemic.

There are reports of it taking 10 years to clear the backlog. 

For alleged victims and defendants alike we need swift justice.  We need a fair system and the government to properly resource and invest in the system.  Today, the government has announced we are back in recession.  Will investing in the legal system be a priority ?  Highly unlikely.  Watch this space as things are likely to get worse before they get better.

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