COVID-19: Labour call for slimmed-down ‘wartime juries’ to clear backlog of Crown Court cases

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Labour is calling for “wartime juries” – by slashing the number of jurors from 12 to seven – in order to help clear a Crown Court backlog of 54,000 cases.

All four justice chief inspectors recently expressed their “grave concern” about the impact of the backlog on the criminal justice system in England and Wales.

They said the COVID-related difficulties and delays “benefit no one and risk damage to many”.

During the Second World War, juror numbers were reduced to seven, except in cases of treason or murder.

And Labour wants similar action to be taken now in order to reduce the space required to hold jury trials in a socially distanced manner.

They are also pressuring the government to speed up the roll-out of temporary “Nightingale” courts.

David Lammy, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said: “The justice system is facing its gravest crisis since World War Two, leaving thousands of victims waiting too long to get justice.

“Victims of rape, murder, domestic abuse, robbery and assault are facing delays of up to four years because of the government’s failure to act.

“Justice cannot be delayed any further.

“Labour is calling on the government to tackle the backlog by speeding up the rollout of Nightingale courts and temporarily introducing wartime juries of seven until the pandemic is over.”

Lord Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, has previously given his support to reducing the size of juries in order to allow social distancing.

There are now 20 Nightingale courts in operation across England and Wales, although it has previously been suggested that up to 10 times that number could be needed.

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The government has pledged more than £110m to tackle the impact of COVID-19 on the court system, including the recruitment of 1,600 additional staff.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “We have prioritised measures that yield the greatest impact and more courtrooms are now open for jury trials than before the pandemic.

“This approach is already delivering results, with magistrates’ backlogs falling significantly and the number of cases being dealt with in the Crown Courts reaching pre-COVID levels last month.”

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