Monday 6th July 2020 signifies the start of HMCTS Recovery Plan in relation to listing Magistrates Court Hearings. On the 26th June 2020 the Law Gazette published an article reporting that the Magistrates Court faced a backlog of over 480,000 cases.
For many advocates, it has been a good 3 months that they have been out of Court, whilst we don’t expect to have ring rust (it’s like riding a bike isn’t it). It will certainly take time to adapt to the proposed Magistrates Court System. Criminal defence advocates will be attempting to clear a backlog of almost half a million cases.
The current proposal by HMCTS in relation to Guilty Plea cases is to list 12 cases in the Court morning sessions; 4 at 10am, 4 at 11am, 4 at 12pm with possible probation reports and sentencing being conducted in the afternoon.
For Not Guilty plea cases, 9 cases will be listed in the AM; 3 at 10am, 3 at 11am and 3 at 12pm. 6 Cases in the PM session with 3 cases listed at 2pm and 3 cases listed at 3pm.
In an ideal world this would work but as a Criminal Defence Practitioners we all know that nothing ever goes according to plan. Whilst in Court we are cool, calm and collected, no pre Court guidance can prepare us for; the CPS not providing papers, an anticipated guilty plea in fact being a Not Guilty plea, a defendant arriving late or having no space in the cell for a consultation.
As much as we all love it when a plan comes together, it is clear that this proposed system will take some time to get used to and we will all encounter difficulties on our return to the frontline.
The HMCTS Recovery plan also states that Courts such as Lavender Hill will be used to deal with the backlog of cases.
One of the things the Recovery Plan highlights is the knee jerk decision to close some of the Courts which could have assisted in dealing with the backlog.
My beloved Camberwell Magistrates which closed in 2019, Tower Bridge Magistrates Court (closed in 2013) where I had my first ever trial before DJ Stone …… (yes it was an acquittal) and Hammersmith Magistrates Court (closed 2017) all could have assisted with the anticipated overflow of Magistrates Court work.
What is clear is that 480,000 + social distancing does not = speedy summary justice.
Many of our peers will remain furloughed or on leave until the volume of Criminal defence work picks up. I for one look forward to seeing them in the near future and haircut permitting on the 4th July hopefully back on the frontline on the 6th July.
In the meantime, stay safe.
Lartey & Co Solicitors are a firm which specialise in Criminal Defence, Extradition Law, Appeals, Professional Discipline and Regulatory Law, Cash Seizure and Forfeiture.