The Criminal Justice System's enormous task of recovery

Thursday 18 June

Angus Macpherson

As the Government starts to reduce the measures put in place in response to COVID-19, we can now see business and industry take those first and most important steps on the journey to recovery.

The Criminal Justice System is no different. The closure of some courts was the right decision to protect public health but right across the Justice System we are now facing the enormous task of recovery.

Here in Wiltshire I chair the Wiltshire Criminal Justice Board (WCJB), a group of organisations working together to improve the justice system locally. As we start on this enormous journey we do so together, but I have no doubt that there will be many challenges ahead for all those working across this sector.

There is a well-known saying 'justice delayed is justice denied' and for many victims who are part of this process, during this period when courts have been closed or operating on restricted capacity, some victims will have felt let down. Both victims of crime and those who have been accused of crime have a right for their case to be heard, and justice prevailed in a timely and efficient manner. Victims need to be able heal and rebuild their lives, and those who have been accused have a right to an outcome so they too can take the next steps.

At our recent Board we discussed and outlined the impact caused by COVID-19 and the work and planning required to return the justice system to normal business. Given the large numbers of organisations and people involved in delivering the justice system there are practical challenges that we need to overcome in order to be able to deliver justice and meet the COVID secure guidelines, ensuring the safety of the judiciary, staff and the public.

I'm pleased to see the excellent work so far by Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service, Wiltshire Police, the Crown Prosecution service and others who are working so hard to develop and implement plans. I have personally seen how the use of technology is allowing hearings to continue and be heard digitally, providing an efficient and effective solution.

At our last meeting the WCJB discussed a range of options to build on current processes in place, and support Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service to resume as much as possible. But there will be no quick fix or easy solution.

As PCC and Chair of the WCJB I have written to the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland to outline the local challenges, risks and how we are working to tackle these. I will continue to listen and talk to victims to understand the impact of delays and invest in our local services to make sure they are supported. Working together is key, and I have asked my office to support in any way it can.

With ongoing concerns of Coronavirus and social distancing restrictions likely to remain in place for some time we will need to remain innovative and pragmatic as the longer term impact on the justice system, including delays will be significant.