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Blog post: Magistrates hear 90% of criminal cases, slashing their resources will not help reduce the backlog

A response to Transform Justice


29 November 2021
Blog post: Magistrates hear 90% of criminal cases, slashing their resources will not help reduce the backlog

Timely access to justice cannot be achieved by reducing the already strained resources in the magistrates’ courts where every criminal case is heard in the first instance.

Transform Justice recently suggested reorienting existing resources from the magistrates’ courts to the Crown Court. The call to reorient resources would undermine work of the magistrates and court staff who have successfully worked to reduce the backlog in the magistrates’ courts. 

The most recent criminal justice statistics evidence that magistrates’ courts have responded well to the backlog and already reduced their outstanding cases by over 70,000 between April and September 2021. The Five-Point Plan introduced in April 2021 for the magistrates’ courts has already yielded excellent results with the backlog reducing by over 70,000 by September 2021.

A failure to prioritise magistrates' courts would unravel the excellent progress which has been made by magistrates who have and continue volunteer their time to provide local and, as the backlog evidence indicates, efficient justice for their communities. The dedication of court staff and legal advisers, despite high caseloads and limited resources, have also been invaluable to this progress in reducing the magistrates' court backlog. 

Far from reorienting resources away, the current level of resourcing will need to be maintained to implement Clause 11 of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill (recently passed by the House of Commons Bill committee) which will provide increased flexibility to return certain cases to the magistrates’ court. It is estimated that this change will support court recovery by saving an estimated 400 Crown Court sitting days per year. Reducing the already strained resources available to the magistrates' courts, which hear and dispose of the overwhelming majority of all criminal law cases in England and Wales, will not achieve a reduction in the court backlog. 

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