Labour has added its voice to calls for the government to significantly increase the number of court sitting days to clear the Crown court backlog, which reached nearly 57,000 cases last month.
Like the Criminal Bar Association, Labour wants to see an allocation of 120,000 Crown court sitting days for 2021-2022 – which would be a one-third increase on the 87,000 budgeted for in 2020-21.
The increase would be part of a package of measures the opposition party is calling for to clear the Crown court backlog, which reached 56,951 in the week ending 14 February before dropping to 56,875 the following week. The pre-Covid baseline is 39,331. Labour has also called for the roll out of mass testing in courts, a rapid extension of Nightingale courts and reduced juries in most cases until restrictions are lifted.
Shadow justice secretary David Lammy MP said: ‘In Britain, we all share a belief in fairness and the right to justice. But victims of crime have been forgotten by this government. Labour is calling for a massive extension in the number of court sitting days so that victims of rape, violent assault, domestic abuse, robbery and other serious crimes can get the fast justice the government owes them.’
According to the Criminal Bar Association, Robert Buckland and Rishi Sunak’s departments were due to meet last week to agree the final budget for court sitting days for the 2021-2022 financial year.
The Ministry of Justice has yet to announce the new sitting day allocation but justice minister Chris Philp MP told the Commons last week that the Ministry of Justice expects ‘a very considerable increase’ in sitting days for the next financial year.
Philp said the Crown courts were getting through about 2,000 cases a week but acknowledged the need to go faster. ‘I think the judiciary eased off listing a little bit in January, February and the early part of March owing to the more recent lockdown. Now we are moving out of those restrictions, in phases, our expectation is that listing levels will go up again,’ he said.