Plans to replace jury trials with a judge and two magistrates look set to be ditched in the face of opposition from lawyers. The Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett proposed the idea to ease pressure on the courts as a result of a growing backlog trials caused by the pandemic.
Earlier this week the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland claimed to have ‘identified 10 additional sites for so-called Nightingale courts to ‘allow for better social distancing’. According to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service the new venues which could include town halls and university lecture theatres would start running next month. Apparently the lord chancellor, would like them to be called Blackstone courts after William Blackstone, the 18th-century jurist, raher then Nightingale courts.
A new report by the HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate reckons ‘that the current scale of increase in the backlog would take 10 years to clear at pre-pandemic rates’. ‘Any major increase in the time taken to hear cases is likely to be highly detrimental to justice,’ it added.
Inspectors reckon that trial backlogs in the magistrates’ courts have increased by close to a third (32%) between the beginning of March and early May, from 12,100 to 16,000. ‘In the Crown Court, where cases are much more complex, the estimated increase is 43% (from 17,400 to 24,900). The increase is exponential; the percentage increase by the end of May, some three weeks later, was 41% in the magistrates’ courts and 53% in the Crown Court,’ it continues.
Lord Burnett has said that local leadership judges would ‘be looking to list creatively and to stagger and extend sitting times, with the potential to start hearings at different times of day and to sit at weekends’. His call for ‘all hands to the pump’ did not go down well with beleaguered defence lawyers.
Not least as we currently work evenings and weekends preparing our cases. If extended hours are brought in, I’m seriously considering walking away. And I know many others will tell @TheCriminalBar the same thing.
— The Secret Barrister (@BarristerSecret) July 1, 2020