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Volume of work in Magistrates' Courts needs to be increased, says Lord Chief Justice

The Lord Chief Justice has sent a message to magistrates saying the volume of work in the Magistrates’ Courts needs to be increased.

Lord Burnett of Maldon said: “It was necessary in March to restrict the work being done in the Magistrates’ Courts as a result of the coronavirus emergency. Increasing the volume and range of work has been underway for some time.

“Magistrates are undertaking the Single Justice Procedure work. District judges continue to work in their courts dealing with overnight and remand cases, sentencing and urgent matters. They have adopted new procedures and made increased use of video technology. Trials have recommenced conducted both by Magistrates and District Judges.”

The LCJ said he was “very grateful to everyone for their continued commitment, dedication and hard work at this difficult time”.

He added: “We need now to increase the volume of work in the Magistrates’ Courts.

“Planning is underway to increase the number of hearings and trials taking place in court and to deal with the backlog of cases that has inevitably grown.”

Lord Burnett also said:

  • HMCTS had been making arrangements to maintain safety within the courts in line with Public Health England and Public Health Wales guidance. “Risk assessments led to plans to ensure social-distancing, and much more, to safeguard all those who attend the Magistrates’ Courts.”
  • The Magistrates’ Court Hearings Working Group chaired by the Senior District Judge (Chief Magistrate) has representatives from across the criminal justice system including magistrates, the legal profession and HMCTS. “This group continues to monitor the position across the jurisdiction and is putting place new measures to help ensure effective hearings and trials can take place safely.”
  • Circuit Magistrates’ Courts Hearings Working Groups chaired by the Presiding Judges on each Circuit, with participants that mirror those of the national group, will make local arrangements and report to the Deputy Senior Presiding Judge.

The LCJ concluded: “It is important that the administration of justice continues to function whenever it is possible in an environment which is consistent with the safety of all those involved.

“Magistrates are keen to do more. Our aim is to ensure that happens.”

John Bache JP, National Chair of the Magistrates Association, the membership body for magistrates in England and Wales, said: "Over the last two months, the number of cases coming through the courts has been significantly reduced as a result of the sensible steps that were taken to protect the health of all court users. This has inevitably led to a backlog of cases that are waiting to be heard.

"The most urgent cases have, however, continued to be dealt with throughout this period and work is now underway to enable magistrates’ courts to do more, with greater use of technology and social distancing measures in place. This is both welcome and necessary. While the safety of court users must never be put at risk, it is important to get the justice system moving again and magistrates are eager to pull their weight in helping the courts to recover from the current crisis."

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