Ministry of Justice written question – answered at on 26 March 2024.

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Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Conservative, Broadland

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what steps his Department is taking to tackle the backlog in the courts.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

We remain committed to tackling the outstanding caseloads across our courts and tribunals and have introduced a range of measures to achieve this aim.

Over 90% of all criminal cases are heard at the magistrates’ court, where we heard 100,000 cases a month on average across 2023. While the outstanding caseload in the magistrates’ courts has slightly increased in recent months due to an increase in the number of cases coming to court, the caseload remains well below its pandemic peak and stood at 353,900 at the end of September 2023, and cases continue to be progressed quickly. To aid our efforts in the magistrates’ courts, we invested £1 million in a programme of work to support the recruitment of more magistrates. We aim to recruit 2,000 new magistrates this year, and similar numbers for each of the next couple of years.

At the Crown Court, we remain committed to reducing the outstanding caseload. Last financial year we sat over 100,000 days and this financial year, we plan to deliver around 107,000 sitting days and recruit more than 1,000 judges across all jurisdictions. Judges have worked tirelessly to complete more cases, with disposals up by 9% during Q3 in 2023 compared to Q4 in 2022 (25,700 compared to 23,700).

We are also investing in our criminal courts. In August 2023, we announced we are investing £220 million for essential modernisation and repair work of our court buildings across the next two years, up to March 2025. We have also continued the use of 20 Nightingale courtrooms into the 2024/25 financial year, to allow courts to work at full capacity.

In the Family Court, we are working with the Department for Education and other partners on the Family Justice Board to tackle the longest running cases and increase the proportion of public law cases that conclude within the 26-week timeline. The Department for Education are also investing an extra £10m to develop new initiatives to address the longest delays in public law proceedings.

We announced in the Spring Budget an additional £55m to improve productivity, support earlier resolution of family disputes and reduce the number of cases coming to court. This includes creating a digital advice tool for separating couples, piloting early legal advice and supporting the expansion of the private law Pathfinder model. We are also investing up to £23.6m in the family mediation voucher scheme, which we intend will allow for its continuation up to March 2025. As of March 2024, over 26,000 families have successfully used the scheme to attempt to resolve their private law disputes outside of court.

With regards to civil cases, we are taking action to ensure those that do need to go to trial are dealt with quickly. We have launched the biggest ever judicial recruitment drive for District Judges, are digitising court processes and holding more remote hearings, and are increasing the use of mediation. The requirement for small claims in the county court to attend a mediation session with the Small Claims Mediation Service will start this spring and is expected to help parties resolve their dispute swiftly and consensually without the need for a judicial hearing.

With regards to tribunals, we continue to work with the Department for Business and Trade on further measures to address caseloads in the Employment Tribunal, where the deployment of legal officers, recruitment of additional judges and a new electronic case management system have helped the Tribunal to manage its caseload which remains below its pandemic peak.

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