Funding must address root causes of the crown court backlog

Following the news that the criminal justice system will receive additional funding to tackle the Crown Court’s backlog of cases, the leader of the Midland Circuit has stressed the importance of addressing the root causes.

Michelle Heeley QC, who is a member of No5 Barristers’ Chambers, has highlighted that the targeted reduction of pending cases from 60,000 to 53,000 by 2024-2025, as outlined in the recent budget, would fall short of bringing the figure down to pre-pandemic levels. This comes ahead of the eagerly anticipated and long-awaited Bar Council spending review, which is set to clarify how fundamental issues at the bar are to be tackled.

Michelle comments: “Although any move to increase funding and improve the criminal justice system is welcomed, this cannot be allowed to simply paper over the cracks. The backlog crisis started before the pandemic, which has merely exacerbated the situation.

“Over the last four years, there has been an 11% decrease in the number of junior barristers available for criminal cases, and a 22% reduction in the number of criminal QCs. This is a direct result of a lack of funding to ensure cases are being heard, which in turn limits the ability of the justice system to carry out its function.”

The nature of serious sex cases means that those involved are often the hardest hit by the backlog. Victims, witnesses, and defendants are left in limbo, often for several months or even years, due to a lack of barristers and judges who can conduct proceedings.

Michelle continues: “The fact that the courts themselves are now open again, but are frequently empty due to a lack of legal representation, is particularly frustrating. When you consider the number of vulnerable people that this directly affects, it is critical that a strategic approach is adopted quickly.

“This is where the spending review needs to reflect the expertise at the Bar, by allocating funding in a way that addresses the fundamental issues – namely, it must arrest the decline in barristers and judges practising in criminal law. This will help to strengthen the justice system, which is, after all, in everyone’s interests.”

For more information, please visit: https://www.no5.com/people/barristers/michelle-heeley-qc/silk/

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