The Coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented public health emergency. Measures taken to control the disease have unavoidably affected the justice system. During the period of ‘lockdown’ there have been fewer arrests and charges and fewer prosecutions brought by the Crown Prosecution Service. Trial by jury was paused. Fewer civil cases have started. While the most urgent cases have been dealt with by those courts that have remained open and via remote hearings using video and phone calls, many others have been put on hold.
The reduction in legal activity means lower incomes for legal services providers. Legal services providers have been able to use some of the general financial support schemes offered by the Government and there have been some changes to the way legal aid is paid, however there are gaps in the support. Legally aided services, that were already under significant financial strain following many years of reductions to legal aid budgets, are under great pressure. We are concerned that as a result of Coronavirus some barristers, solicitors, and law centres may collapse.
Given the pent-up demand and the increased number of cases waiting to be heard that has built up since mid-March 2020, it is imperative that the Ministry of Justice takes action to prevent the collapse of legal services providers that will be needed as the measures to control Coronavirus are lifted. Without this there is a clear risk that those seeking legal advice and representation will find that it is not there when they need it.
Published: 3 August 2020