The UK government must heed the growing number of independent and professional bodies raising the alarm about the crisis in the criminal justice system, the Law Society of England and Wales said, in light of the Chief Inspectors of Police, Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS), Probation and Prisons report looking at the impact of the pandemic on the system.
“The joint report by the four HM Chief Inspectors carries particular weight, given their involvement in so many aspects of the criminal justice system, and rightly highlights the impact of the unacceptable Crown Court delays on victims, witnesses and defendants,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.
“Decades of underfunding and cuts mean there simply aren’t enough judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers left to cover the huge backlog of cases. Too many courts have been closed and many of those left are neglected and crumbling.
“A traumatised victim can be left waiting years to see their assailant locked up, while others lose faith in the justice system altogether. An innocent defendant can find their life in limbo indefinitely while they wait to clear their name.
“It is particularly compelling to see the four HM Chief Inspectors – who have no vested interest when it comes to defence practitioners – echoing our concerns about the urgent need for investment in defence practice if there is to be any prospect of clearing the court backlogs.*
“Sustained investment is needed across the criminal justice system and, as the report points out, the plan must be coordinated for the system to recover, otherwise changes in one area will have a negative impact on another.
“For example, the criminal defence profession will not be there to meet the additional workload resulting from 20,000 new police officers unless the government implements the bare minimum recommended 15% increase in criminal legal aid fees.
“Without that bare minimum, court backlogs will inevitably endure, solicitors will continue to leave the profession in droves, and we will no longer have a criminal justice system worthy of the name.”
Notes to editors
- * See paragraphs 2.7 and 4.7 of the report from the Chief Inspectors of Police, Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS), Probation and Prisons
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