The judicial summer recess could be axed this year and magistrates may be required to sit at weekends to tackle the mounting backlog of cases, according to press reports today.
The traditional two-month summer recess, observed by the High Court and the Court of Appeal, could be cancelled, according to the Telegraph. Evening and weekend magistrates’ hearings are also likely to be extended across the country.
There are concerns that the growing backlog of cases will cripple the criminal justice system once lockdown is eased. The number of outstanding Crown court cases in England and Wales reached a two-year high before the pandemic took hold, with 37,434 cases waiting to be heard in December 2019. The pandemic is expected to have exacerbated the problem.
Caroline Goodwin QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said: ‘Any decision by the senior judiciary to forgo the conventional summer recess to preside over criminal appeals sends a strong and welcome signal - and would underpin the nation’s safe return to economic and social prosperity.
'The Crown court generally never rests through the summer period but notions of even a brief pause for now are on hold, as the entire focus of the the criminal bar and the judiciary is to roll-out a safe resumption of jury trials across the Crown courts estate in careful stages over the coming months.'
However, some barristers have said cancelling the recess will do little to clear the backlog as the break is not observed by Crown courts or magistrates’ courts.
A small number of jury trials will resume in up to seven Crown court premises from Monday and more court centres are expected to re-open in the coming weeks. However the general restarting of jury trials across the system is not believed to be imminent.
*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.