Mind the gap: Government urged not to let law and order slip through the cracks in levelling up plans
The Bar Council has urged the Government to regenerate areas of the Midlands and North by investing in the local court system and providing access to early legal advice for the most vulnerable, as it highlights regions where local law and order is particularly weak.
It comes as the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, told delegates at the Bar Council’s Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference that justice issues are integral to the government's levelling up agenda.
The Midlands and the North have been hard hit by lack of investment in justice:
- Nottinghamshire has the highest number of recorded crime in East Midlands (100,191), whilst the backlog of cases in the criminal courts continues to be a problem in the county. Nottingham Crown Court saw just 370 cases concluded at between April and June, compared to 559 for the same period in 2019. Earlier this year, it was predicted that there were close to 10,000 cases awaiting conclusion at magistrates' courts in the county and 900 in Nottingham Crown Court. Despite the major backlog, no Nightingale Courts have been established by the Ministry of Justice in Nottinghamshire.
- Derbyshire is facing a substantial backlog of cases with 6,000 waiting to be heard in Derby and Derbyshire Magistrates’ Courts and 380 in the Crown Courts as of July 2020. Despite the large backlog, no Nightingale Courts have been opened across the county. Derby has one publicly funded legal advice provider for housing and one for welfare support. By comparison, the London Borough of Southwark alone has 19 housing legal aid providers and three welfare support providers.
- Carlisle is facing a substantial backlog of cases in Carlisle Crown Court with 254 cases waiting to be heard at the end of June, a backlog rise of 18% since March 2020. Carlisle also has just one publicly funded legal advice provider for housing and none for welfare support. Cumbria has the highest percentage increase in total recorded crime (excluding fraud) across the North West when comparing the year ending March 2019 with year ending March 2020.
- Lancashire has, in the past 10 years, seen 12 magistrates’ court closures, while Preston is facing a substantial backlog of cases in local criminal courts with 1,007 waiting to be heard as of June 2020. Preston also only has one publicly funded legal advice provider for housing and one for welfare support, whilst Blackpool has just one welfare support legal advice provider and none for housing.
As of 25 October, the national magistrates’ court backlog of cases is 489,226 and the Crown court backlog is 51,595.
The Bar Council’s call for action to the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes as official Ministry of Justice figures showed that a record 130,000 offences resulted in criminals avoiding prosecution through “soft justice” community resolution orders, including more than 50,000 drug offenders.
In a paper to the Treasury ahead of the Spending Review, the Bar Council writes:
“Levelling up is a key Government commitment to help communities, particularly in the Midlands and the North, and to reduce regional inequalities. There is an opportunity as part of this strategy to regenerate towns and cities by modernising and investing in courts and tribunals, which are often in the centre of these towns and cities such as Blackpool, Carlisle, Preston, Cardiff and York.”
As part of the levelling up agenda, the Bar Council also urges the Government to make non-means tested legal aid available for all domestic abuse cases and introduce early access to legal advice for social welfare issues.
Chair of the Bar Council, Amanda Pinto QC said: “Levelling up should focus on people, as well as the areas they call home. The Government has a chance right now to help support the most vulnerable in society and balance the scales. Many people in the North and Midlands are in dire need of early legal advice to help them resolve issues such as housing, debt or unemployment. In the long run, this early advice saves the Government money and resources across several Ministries. The sooner we can stop cases snowballing, causing further delays to the court system and cost and misery to the people involved, the better.
“Very often, legal need is simply not being met. The public expects and deserves that those who have committed crimes against them will be brought to justice quickly and effectively. That is impossible with insufficient court space to deal with the exploding backlog of cases. But the Government can change that by reopening courts that have been closed, refurbishing existing courts to help reduce the backlog and giving communities the ability to have justice done locally and efficiently.”
Read the Bar Council’s full Spending Review submission here.