The Criminal Bar Association has called for 120,000 Crown court sitting days next year ahead of the Ministry of Justice and HM Treasury sitting down this week to finalise the budget. This would be a one-third increase on the 87,000 budgeted for in 2020-21.
According to the association, Robert Buckland and Rishi Sunak’s departments will agree the final budget for Crown court sitting days for the 2021-2022 financial year.
James Mulholland QC, chair of the association, said setting a budget of 120,000 sitting days ‘will send a clear message to the public that this government takes criminal justice seriously for all of its citizens’.
The association has calculated that there will be around 444 court rooms dealing with all hearings, including trials, by the summer.
‘The CBA maintains that we must not stand still,’ Mulholland said. ‘We need another 30 to 40 further temporary court rooms to assist with outstanding trials, bringing th total on stream to between 475 and 485 court rooms with judges presiding over hearings.
‘Assuming the Crown court can sit for up to 50 weeks in a year, five days a week, that would require around 120,000 Crown court sitting days for at least the next two financial years if the secretary of state’s own assessment for bringing the backlogs back under control by spring 2023 is to be taken seriously.’
The overall case backlog totalled 56,875 as at 21 February. The association said that within that total case backlog, the number of outstanding Crown court trials has grown to an estimated 35,000 – double the 17,400 trials recorded as outstanding a year ago.
For the week ending 1 March 2020, 347 trials concluded, while 372 scheduled trials did not. In the week ending 21 February 2021, 143 trials concluded but another 643 did not conclude as scheduled. ‘Whilst a significant mismatch was evidence between concluded trials and those postponed in the year before Covid-19, a vastly increased divergence has been a consistent weekly theme since early last autumn,’ Mulholland said.
He added: ‘Even if government decides quietly that it is acceptable to tread water and maintain those new extended delays in concluding the 35,000 outstanding trials despite the incredible human cost, those trials still require sufficient budgeting for court rooms and judges to ensure they conclude at all.’