Coronavirus (COVID-19)—Justice Committee reports impact on courts and tribunals

Coronavirus (COVID-19)—Justice Committee reports impact on courts and tribunals

The Justice Committee has published a report detailing the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the courts and tribunals in England and Wales. The courts and tribunals have continued to operate throughout the pandemic, however there is a significant rise in the backlog of cases in the criminal courts. In order to clear these outstanding cases, the government, judiciary and Her Majesty's Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) are co-operating to produce a ‘multi-pronged recovery plan’ involving the temporary establishment of courts, extending court hours, considering the change of arrangements for jury trials and the increased use of technology. The report explains that the majority of measures undertaken in response to coronavirus ‘represent an acceleration of the ongoing court reform programme which began in 2016’, yet it is not certain which of these measures will become permanent. The report details the impact in the criminal courts, civil courts and tribunals, technology and the courts, the recovery plan and offers conclusions and recommendations.

Remote hearings have been swiftly adopted during the pandemic, with the exception of jury trials, and have received positive support from the judiciary and lawyers. However, there is also evidence demonstrating that the hearings are less satisfactory for various lay parties and vulnerable court users. There is also concern surrounding the quality of data being collected by HMCTS, the report warns that as the approach of courts and tribunals develop it is important to ensure ‘effective public debate over the impact on access to justice’.

The report recommends:

• the Ministry of Justice demonstrates how it aims to work with the magistracy to deliver its recovery plan

• HMCTS sets out how it intends to evaluate both the practical and qualitative effects of the changes carried out at pace in response to the pandemic

• the Ministry of Justice commission an urgent review considering the effect of coronavirus measures in the magistrates’ courts and Crown Court

• HMCTS commissions research to establish how the principle of open justice should apply to remote hearings

• HMCTS set out a policy to ensure court users are able to follow and participate in virtual hearings

• the court and tribunal reform programme is reformulated in order to encourage debate and engagement over which previously planned or newly introduced measures will be kept for the long term

• an update be given on how much further investment there will be in the reform programme following the measures taken in response to coronavirus

• HMCTS explains the long-term role of supplementary venues and should set out how coronavirus will change the long-term approach to the estates reform programme

Source: Coronavirus (COVID-19): The impact on courts

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