The Memo: Promises to reduce outstanding court cases deemed unfeasible

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Promises to reduce outstanding court cases deemed unfeasible

Rita McGonigle - 8 July 2024

The current outstanding caseload in both England and Wales is sitting at almost 68,000. Back in 2021, the Ministry of Justice set a goal of reducing this number to 53,000 by March of next year. However, just last month, a parliamentary watchdog announced that this is no longer achievable. The current level of outstanding cases is the highest it has ever been according to a National Audit Office report. Many cases were delayed due to court closures during the pandemic, but barrister strikes and prison overcrowding have also played a part in the backlog. 

These record-breaking numbers mean that victims may have to wait a year or more until their case finally gets to court. The current average waiting time for victims to receive a verdict is 22 months. The England and Wales branch of The Law Society commented that the backlog is directly impacting victims access to justiceso urgent investment is needed. To make matters worse, the Criminal Justice Board, a body aimed to solve issues within the criminal justice system, held no meetings between July 2021 and July 2023. 

So, why are waiting times so long? One reason may be that there are simply not enough criminal barristers. In 2020-21, the number of full-time, publicly funded criminal barristers fell by more than 10%. Barristers have commented that people are put off becoming a criminal barrister due to the long hours, stress, and comparatively lower income than other areas of the law. A reduction in legal aid fees is limiting younger people’s attraction to becoming criminal barristers and solicitors. The Bar Council has repeatedly called for extra funding to keep the criminal justice system afloat. After an indefinite strike last year, the government agreed to increase legal aid rates by 15% for barristers.