The criminal court system will need to run at more than twice its normal capacity over the next three years to deal with the coronavirus backlog and workload created by a growing police force, the Criminal Bar Association has predicted.
Citing figures from the Institute for Government, the CBA said if there are 20,000 more police officers by 2023 – as currently planned – the criminal justice system will have to deal with 66,000 more cases per year, a 16% increase.
Combined with an expected build up of cases as a result of the pandemic, courts will have to run at 125% of 2019/20 levels for the next three years to keep on top of the workload, the CBA said.
In her weekly message to members, chair of the CBA Caroline Goodwin QC writes that lawyers face a ‘toxic scenario’ where ‘the strain on the court system as we know it is going to literally cripple us and unless something is done it is only going to get worse’.
Goodwin said remote hearings were not a solution and more buildings need to be allocated for trials. ‘This use of technology is welcomed but it needs to be approached with care. We have had long held principles of open justice and fair trials. Let us not compromise that for the sake of a ha’porth of tar,’ she said.
Around 40,000 criminal cases are currently outstanding. Goodwin predicted this will rise to 51,000 by the end of June.
‘If statistical modelling is to be considered, the backlog will rise and significantly not only for trials but also for cases. If there is a moderate impact, i.e. 15% of norm, in one quarter April to June, the backlog will rise to 51,000. If that figure of 15% lasts for six months the backlog will increase to 65,000, the highest since 2000,’ she said.
The backlog of civil cases is currently unknown. The Bar Council said this week it had been ‘fobbed off’ by the government after repeatedly asking for listing data.