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Covid-19: Recovery of Criminal Justice System

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 18 November 2021

7. What steps she is taking with (a) the CPS, (b) Government Legal Service and (c) Cabinet colleagues to support the recovery of the criminal justice system since the easing of covid-19 restrictions. (904193)

The Law Officers frequently meet the CPS and colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and elsewhere to progress the recovery of the criminal justice system. It is welcome that the Government have significantly increased the budget for the CPS with an additional £85 million at the 2019 spending review and a 12% uplift over the period of this spending review, to help to recruit and retain prosecutors and modernise digital infrastructure. Court capacity plainly plays a part, too; I commend my hon. Friend for his work to increase the judicial retirement age, which will make an important difference.

You will know, Mr Speaker, that I was delighted that the Government took up the cudgels of my private Member’s Bill—the Magistrates (Retirement Age) Bill—and are now legislating to raise the retirement age of magistrates from 70 to 75. On its own, however, that will not solve the substantial backlog that we still have in our courts, particularly our magistrates courts. What other measures can be taken in the meantime, over and above what is already happening, to ensure that we can get through it? Justice needs to be done fairly, but also efficiently.

As always, my hon. Friend makes an important point. Magistrates courts hear more than 90% of all criminal cases—a point that is not always given the emphasis that it might be. In some parts of the country, magistrates courts have cleared their backlogs completely; indeed, some did so many months ago. To support that recovery, the Government took measures including sitting additional courts on Saturdays and installing plexiglass in more than 450 courtrooms. We want to keep up that momentum with the so-called trial blitz courts planned for later this year. We are fortunate in this country to have dedicated and public-spirited magistrates who continue to do an exemplary job in ensuring that justice is done.