In the Crown Court there is a backlog of 40,000 trials owing, in addition to restrictions around Covid, to the government`s refusal to pay for judges to work what can be described as a normal working week. In other words the current scandal of those awaiting trial notwithstanding a backlog of 400,000 cases in the lower court is partly self inflicted. As a result various "temporary" changes to the jury system have been mooted. In recent days the Lord Chief Justice no less has suggested that juries could be reduced to speed up the trial process. Whether he meant that smaller juries would require smaller Covid secure rooms in which to deliberate or smaller juries would deliberate more speedily is unknown. Perhaps he had both outcomes in mind. What is not in doubt is that 1,600 defendants have been remanded in custody for over a year well in excess of the legal custody time limit of six months. However not only are defendants not facing due process within a reasonable time; witnesses and complainants who might be traumatised by their involvement in the alleged events will have to relive their experiences perhaps two years subsequently when their memories are less than clear and their mental health still less than perfect.
Other suggestions to ease the backlog have been suggested. Currently appeals against verdict or sentence at magistrates courts are resolved at the crown court with a judge presiding and two magistrates assisting. That bench construct could be applied at crown court for defendants who have chosen crown court jury trial for an either way offence instead of a summary trial at the magistrates court. The numbers of those electing crown court trial on an either way offence do not appear to be listed on any government statistics. In addition it is an anomaly in England unlike the rules in Scotland that a defendant on an either way charge can actually choose where to be tried. It is an anomaly that should be abolished even although there would be an anguished outcry from the legal profession perhaps more concerned with reduced fees than lack of choice for their clients. However many lawyers would be pleased if the numbers of District Judges (MC) were increased from the current 124 and they were to preside over all trials with or without assisting magistrates.
Notwithstanding all the above there is no doubt that flaws in the justice system overlooked for a decade are coming to the fore. Ancillary services especially policing and immigration control are also being questioned. There are no easy answers to difficult questions but my personal fear is that populism of either or both Left and Right will make increasing inroads into our less than perfect democratic system of governance suggesting that there are indeed simple answers just awaiting application. With our current prime minister and his team of toadies perhaps we are closer to that situation than we would like to believe.