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MA survey results on reducing the backlog

22 July 2020
MA survey results on reducing the backlog

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, over half of all courts were closed for face-to-face hearings, and the workload was reduced with only the most urgent cases being prioritised, and other cases being adjourned. Steps are now being taken to open up courts when it is possible to ensure social distancing, and more work is therefore being undertaken. However, there is now a substantial backlog of cases which needs to be worked through so a number of proposals are being considered to reduce this backlog. These focus on increasing the number of cases that can be dealt with by courts by extending the hours they are open, using alternative venues which make social distancing easier or looking at alternatives to jury trials.

In order to inform MA positions on the proposals, we carried out a survey with members. A small majority of members would be willing to sit for early mornings on weekdays (62%), late evenings on weekdays (55%) and full days on Saturday (55%). Only 37% would be willing to sit on Sundays. A clear majority of respondents would be happy for alternative venues to be used for the jurisdictions in which they sit (79% in adult, 92% in family and 81% in youth). An even higher proportion of adult magistrates would be willing to sit with a Crown Court judge to hear either-way cases (91% if they were involved in all decisions, and only 60% if they were not involved in sentencing).

 A summary of the data can be found here, and a breakdown of responses by jurisdiction is here.

The results of the survey have been shared with the Ministry of Justice, HMCTS, the Youth Justice Board and the Extended Operating Hours in the Criminal Courts Working Group. They were also covered in an article in the Law Society Gazette on Robert Buckland’s proposals to reduce the court backlog, with a comment from John Bache reiterating the willingness of magistrates to adapt current working practices to help address the backlog.

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