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Court backlogs creeping up as barristers look at further action

Statistics released this week show that crown court backlogs have begun to increase since March.

The current number of open cases in the Crown Court stood at 59,973 in June, according to statistics released this week. 

It means that case backlogs have increased each month since March, beginning to outline an emerging trend. 

This is despite the fact that the courts had appeared to be getting on top of case numbers towards the end of last year as outstanding cases dropped from 60,415 in June 2021 to 57,856 in March 2022. 

It compares to a pre-pandemic figures (31 March 2020) of 41,045 outstanding cases. 

It comes as this week the Criminal Bar Association announced they would be balloting to step up strike action over pay. 

Since 27 June, barristers who have opted in have taken part in 19 days of walk outs as they say the 15% increase in fees to come into effect from autumn on new representation orders is not enough. 

However, the court performance statistics for the period in which strike action has taken place will not be available until the next quarter.

The Criminal Bar Association has said that barristers have seen an average decrease of 28 per cent in real earnings since 2006. 

Currently they are on an alternating pattern of one week working, the next on a walk out. However, since the Justice Secretary has refused to budge on the previous offer, members are being balloted once more with a view of escalating the action to uninterrupted strike action. 

In a letter to members, the CBA said: “The extensive disruption we have seen clearly demonstrates to the public and to Government that the continuing refusal of the Justice Secretary to negotiate a fair settlement with criminal barristers comes at a very heavy price.

"That price is measured by the thousands of pounds wasted each day that a courtroom sits idle or underused, and the shattered lives of complainants, defendants and witnesses who have already suffered unconscionable delays only to be told that their cases cannot proceed for want of a defence barrister.

“We also know that, unless we take this final stand, our profession will continue to be drained of the talents and commitment of hundreds more juniors and Silks who have delayed their departure in the hope that we can achieve a settlement that secures a future worth waiting for.”

Chair of the CBA, Jo Sidhu, told Police Oracle: “The backlog of cases in the Crown Courts was nearly 60,000 cases before criminal barristers voted to take any action at all.

"The record level of trials that are stuck in the system has been entirely caused by Government’s failure to plan for the future and the deliberate cuts they made in 2019 to the number of court days that Judges could hear trials.

"These irresponsible cuts have been at the cost of creating misery for thousands of victims who have been forced to wait up to 5 years for their cases to be heard in court. It is clear that Government are more concerned with saving money than supporting victims of rape and serious violence.

"It is the public who are now paying the price for such low legal aid fees because we simply cannot service the backlog with a skeleton workforce.

"Delays will increase and we can see that the backlog numbers are now creeping up again. But Government continues to ignore us and Dominic Raab has refused to meet us for nearly nine months now. That is why we launched a further ballot this week for permanent strike action from 5th September. We are dealing with a national emergency but our politicians are playing a game of brinkmanship with victims’ lives.”

Members will now have until Sunday 21 August to vote with the result being announced the next day.

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