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Criminal courts

Spending by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has fallen by 23% in real terms since 2010/11. An increase in the typical complexity of cases means that the demands placed on the criminal courts system have not fallen as quickly. At the same time, HMCTS has begun to pursue an extensive programme of reforms to streamline the operation of the courts.

Between 2010/11 and 2015/16, criminal courts struggled somewhat to keep up with new demand. Since then they have managed to reduce waiting times and clear some of the backlog of cases, despite continued cuts to spending and the workforce. This suggests that the courts are processing criminal cases more efficiently, but it does not tell us what has happened to the quality of justice dispensed in those trials or people’s ability to access justice. These issues are harder to assess quantitatively, but anecdotally are of growing concern. Whether all of the recent efficiencies can be sustained will depend on these concerns.