COVID & THE BACKLOG; Wales Governance Centre Webinar, 30th June 2020


The jury have had to be spread out across the trial courtroom, a move which has posed some

logistical challenges to judge, counsel and witness in directing speech to the jury. But, I am

told from those few who have experienced trials at 2m distancing, that there has been very

little effect on the trial process itself, which is very positive news.

But as we have just seen the number of trials being conducted at present are very, very low.

It has been estimated that the capacity of the Crown Court to hold trials under these

conditions is at the highest projection only 25% of its normal capacity – a normal capacity

which, it has to be said, is simply not good enough.

The long-term, chronic under-resourcing of the criminal justice system has created, over a

period of time, a very obstacle to both victims and defendants obtaining justice.

In E&W, between 2010 and 2019, 162 out of 323 magistrates’ courts buildings have been

closed. 8 out of 92 Crown Court complexes have likewise been shut.

The number of magistrates in Wales has fallen from 1,929 to 1,130 during a similar period

(para.2.70 of Commission on Justice in Wales). These are problems that the Commission on

Justice in Wales identified in their report pre-Covid.

Sitting days of High Court judges in Wales has fallen by 17% between 2016 and 2019

(Commission on Justice in Wales – para.2.62). Sitting days for recorders in the Crown Court

are down also.

The fall in capacity of the court structure has been partnered with a fall in the number of

practitioners to support the system.

As noted by the Commission on Justice in Wales, at para.3.70, Wales has seen a drop in the

number of criminal legal aid providers, both litigators and advocates, between 2011 and 2019.


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