Serious Criminal Cases Backlog Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Serious Criminal Cases Backlog

Lord Pannick Excerpts
Tuesday 26th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord is of course correct that delays in the criminal justice system can affect not only the defendant but others involved, including victims and witnesses. The listing of cases is ultimately a matter for the judiciary, not the Executive, so I am limited in what I can say. However, I can confirm, for example, that at the moment the majority of cases where a defendant is in custody have been listed for trial before July 2021.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB) [V]
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My Lords, are the Government considering two possible steps that would help to reduce the unacceptable backlog of cases in the Crown Courts? The first is to reduce the number of jurors to, say, seven, making it easier to ensure social distancing in court rooms, and the second is to allow defendants who are legally represented to choose trial by judge alone in some categories of cases where juries are currently required?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, trial by jury is a cornerstone of the criminal justice system in this jurisdiction. With the support of Public Health England and Public Health Wales, we have made adjustments to more than 290 court rooms and jury deliberation rooms so as to facilitate trial by jury. Reducing the size of the jury is therefore unlikely to free up an additional amount of space for jury trials, and it would also require primary legislation. As to the other point that the noble Lord makes about trial by judge alone, that would, I think, require a significant change in our criminal justice system, and therefore very careful consideration would be required before embarking on that change.