Magistrates’ courts face a backlog of over 480,000 cases, according to new figures laying bare the devastating impact of coronavirus on criminal justice. The figures were released as ministers prepare to announce the first emergency 'Blackstone courts' where cases can be held observing social distancing rules.
According to preliminary government data, the number of outstanding cases in the magistrates’ courts increased by 22% to 484,000 between the week ending 8 March and 17 May. Outstanding cases had already risen by 11% between January and March, reaching levels last seen in 2015.
Meanwhile, the backlog in the Crown court stands at around 41,000 cases, up from 37,434 in December.
The number of vacated trials has also increased sharply, with around 250 trials vacated per week between January and 22nd March. This figure rose to around 400 between 29th March and 31st May 2020, with a peak in the week ending 29th March 2020.
The Ministry of Justice report said that ‘although courts have continued to carry out urgent business and made more use of remote audio and video technology, the impact of COVID-19 is clear to see’.
According to press reports today 10 sites for emergency courts - expected to be dubbed 'Blackstone courts' by the lord chancellor - have been identified after officials searched the country for suitable accommodation, including in town halls and university lecture theatres. Ministers are expected to announce the first tranche of venues next week.
However 200 extra sites are believed to be required to deal with the rising number of cases waiting to be heard.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.