The scale of the challenge to the justice system posed by the coronavirus pandemic is becoming apparent, as virtual hearings transform business in the higher civil courts but trigger alarms about the fairness of remote proceedings in the family and lower courts.
Reliance on video technology is accelerating the government’s pre-existing £1bn court modernisation programme but also throwing up questions about where it is appropriate: many unrepresented claimants do not have super-fast broadband or are among those categorised as “digitally excluded”.
Even before the pandemic, some criminal cases were being listed more than a year ahead due to austerity cuts in the number of allocated judges’ sitting days. With jury trials suspended, the backlog grew at 1,000 cases a month.
The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, is considering whether to rent commercial premises – dubbed “Nightingale courts” - with space to spread out jurors, lawyers and court staff.