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Liberal Democrats

F23: Swift Justice for Victims and Offenders

Motion as amended passed by conference

Proposed by: 12 members

Mover: Wera Hobhouse MP (Spokesperson for Justice and Women & Equalities).

Summation: Lord Marks (Lords Spokesperson for Justice).

Conference notes with concern that:

  1. The backlog of outstanding criminal cases in the Crown Court has risen to 59,928, 13,202 of which are more than a year old.
  2. Although the backlog has been exacerbated by Covid, it already stood at 41,015 cases in March 2020, having grown by 23% in the year before the pandemic when the Government cut the number of court sitting days.
  3. A Crown Court case now takes an average of 23 months from offence to completion.
  4. Long delays can lead to victims and witnesses withdrawing, making it more likely that the case collapses.
  5. Court backlogs have increased the number of people being held in prison on remand by 48% since 2018, to 12,990 at the end of September 2021.
  6. The independent Chief Inspectors of Constabulary, the Crown Prosecution Service, Prisons, and Probation have identified the “unprecedented and very serious court backlogs” as “the greatest threat to the proper operation of the criminal justice system”.
  7. The criminal justice system is facing a workforce crisis: the number of full-practice criminal barristers fell by 11% between 2016-17 and 2019-20, the permanent courts staff has shrunk by 10% since 2015, and the Government is failing to recruit enough judges.
  8. The National Audit Office has highlighted the lack of shared objectives across the criminal justice system and long-standing data limitations as key risks to the recovery of the criminal courts.
  9. 72 ‘Nightingale’ courtrooms were opened between July 2020 and July 2021 to increase capacity, 38 of them serving the Crown Court, but the Chancellor has refused to fund the 33 extra Nightingale courtrooms requested by the Ministry of Justice.
  10. Suggestions for tackling the backlog have included removing the right to a jury trial in certain cases and reducing the number of jurors.
  11. The Government aims to reduce the Crown Court backlog to 53,000 by March 2025, which would still leave it 59% larger than at the end of 2018.

Conference believes that:

  1. Justice delayed is justice denied.
  2. The Conservative Government’s failure to get to grips with the backlog in the criminal courts is letting down victims and their families, witnesses, and defendants.
  3. These long delays undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system and allow too many criminals to get away with it.
  4. . Police officers, court staff, judges and lawyers have worked tirelessly to keep our criminal justice system going through the Covid pandemic, but they have been let down by the Government’s failure to provide adequate support and resources.
  5. Police officers, court staff, judges and lawyers have worked tirelessly to keep our criminal justice system going through the Covid pandemic, but they have been let down by the Government’s failure to provide adequate support and resources.

Conference reaffirms the Liberal Democrat commitments to:

  1. Restore community court buildings where still available, and invest in new user-friendly premises where required and justified.
  2. Reduce the number of people in prison on remand.
  3. Make the legal aid system simpler and more generous for both criminal and civil cases, with everyone in receipt of means-tested benefits automatically eligible.
  4. Establish a new right to affordable, reasonable legal assistance with a new, independent Justice Commission to monitor and enforce it.

Conference further calls on the Government to:

  1. Set a clear target of halving the time from offence to sentencing for all criminals, and implement a properly funded strategy across the criminal justice system to achieve it.
  2. Fund the extra Nightingale courtrooms needed to increase capacity and tackle the backlog.
  3. Reject any proposals to weaken the right to trial by jury.
  4. Provide extra funding for victims’ services, to ensure all victims get the support they need.
  5. Implement a new data strategy across the criminal justice system to ensure that capacity meets demand, and to understand the needs of all users, especially victims, vulnerable people and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.
  6. Work with the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association to develop a workforce strategy to ensure there are enough criminal barristers, including a significant increase in funding for the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme.

Applicability: England and Wales.

Mover: : 5 minutes; summation of motion and movers and summation of any amendments: 3 minutes; all other speakers: 3 minutes.

For eligibility and procedure for speaking in this debate, see page 9. To submit a speaker’s card go to: www.libdems.org.uk/speakers-card.

The deadline for amendments to this motion is 13.00, Monday 28 February; see page 12. Amendments selected for debate will be published in the Conference Extra and Saturday Conference Daily updates to the Conference Agenda.

The deadline for requests for separate votes is 11.00 Friday 11 March; see page 9.

Amendment One (passed)

Proposed by: 12 members

Mover: James Baillie.

Summation: Janey Little.

After H. (line 25), insert:

I. Restorative justice approaches, used in place of or alongside traditional criminal justice, have potential to improve outcomes for victims and society and speed up routes to justice, and have seen severe under-use and under-investment.

After 6. (line 74), add:

7. Improve access to restorative justice services where possible, and aim to normalise their use for a wider range of cases and offences.

8. Introduce new local authority officers to refer issues and cases directly to restorative justice services where appropriate, reducing strain on the current procedural justice system and providing alternative effective routes to justice.