A Royal Commission announced in the Queen’s speech last December to review and improve efficiency in the criminal justice system will not start work until the autumn and may not report until 2022, it has emerged.

The Ministry of Justice is currently advertising for a deputy director-secretary to the commission. The successful candidate would lead on setting up the commission, and act as a link between the commission and the wider criminal justice system. The salary for the full-time post is £72,500.

Yesterday, Lord Ramsbotham, a crossbench peer, asked justice minister Lord Keen (Richard Keen QC) in the House of Lords when the commission’s chair, timings and terms of reference will be announced.

Lord Keen was reminded that in June he described the commission as an ‘important opportunity’ and further announcements would be made in due time. ‘As the royal commission was announced in December and many, including the Law Society, have highlighted that currently the criminal justice system is not working in an efficient or effective way, when will the lord chancellor seize the opportunity?’ Lord Ramsbotham asked.

The backlog of Crown court cases reached 40,173 by the end of March, at the height of the coronavirus crisis. It now stands at 41,599. Magistrates’ courts are facing a backlog of over 480,000 cases.

Lord Keen said a ‘small team’ of civil servants is working to establish the commission ‘and it anticipated that they will transition to make up the secretariat for the commission, which we hope to have operational from the autumn’.

The terms of reference have not been finalised. Lord Keen said: ‘We anticipate that the royal commission will be able to commence its work in the autumn, having before it a finalised set of terms of reference. We have to be realistic about how the royal commission will operate. We wish it to report within 12 to 18 months; accordingly, the terms of reference will have to reflect that timescale.’

Conservative peer Lord Balfe asked if Lord Keen would be willing to convene a ministerial meeting of interested persons in the House of Lords to discuss the details of the terms of reference so that they had broad support when they are announced. However, Lord Keen said the ministry had reached a stage in the process where such a meeting would result in 'considerable delay'.