Judges brought out of retirement to clear court backlog

updated on 15 November 2022

Reading time: two minutes

Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett has authorised 65 retired judges, half of whom are in their 70s, to oversee cases in an attempt to reduce the backlog of 63,000 cases. The number currently stands at almost double the number on the docket before courts closed during the pandemic.  

It’s one of a series of measures being introduced to address the shortage of judges. Other measures include placing part-time, fee-paid judges to sit on cases, and training judges from magistrates’ courts to work in crown courts.

The Ministry of Justice is under pressure to reduce the backlog after the six-month barristers' strike set back plans to slash it by 10,000 by March 2025, as reported in The Telegraph.

Lord Burnett said the judiciary had done everything it could to “enhance judicial capacity”. However, he admitted that the government’s target of reducing the backlog in just two and a half years to 53,000 would be “very difficult.” Even if this target was achieved, the backlog would still be nearly 20,000 more than the backlog in 2018-19.

The two core reasons for the magnitude of the backlog according to Lord Burnett are the shortage of judges available to hear cases; and lawyers lack of availability.

Kirsty Brimelow KC, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “The criminal justice system remains in crisis. Barristers and judges are working extremely hard to deliver justice for victims. 

“But the justice system requires retention of criminal barristers for both defence and prosecution. This also ensures provision of sufficient part-time judges.”

She added: “Government has started to play its part by reinvesting in barristers. But this has been done at crisis point and there remains a critical shortage of barristers.”

Currently it takes 44 days from reporting an offence for a suspect to be charged by police, with a further delay of 237 days before a court hearing.

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