London Magistrates’ Courts; Bucket List Issues this Week – 24.07.20
Message from HMCTS CEO, Susan Acland-Hood (24.07.20)
London Magistrates’ Courts – Bucket List issues this week
The first thing to say is that we are very sorry this has happened – it shouldn’t have, and we’re urgently working to learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
To help your members understand what happened here, I’ve had a very helpful explanation from London colleagues. First, it may be useful to understand that these lists were not planned as court lists. The large numbers of cases quoted refer to those in the backlog lists (commonly called ‘bucket lists’) which are held pending listing as the opportunity arises.
The cases are typically of lesser seriousness and are being held back in response to COVID-19, and to the need to manage our recovery plans safely with good social distancing measures in place at courthouses. We are, of course, increasing the amount – and types – of work we’re hearing every week – but there are still large numbers of lower-seriousness cases that were put off earlier in the pandemic, and there are also still some cases coming up that can’t be heard immediately. The practice in some courts is to put these into what is called a ‘bucket list,’ and then adjourn them off. These bucket lists have, in busier courts, grown significantly during the pandemic. The issues seen this week in Highbury and Thames was caused by a failure to adjourn the cases in good time and avoid unnecessary attendances (effectively, lists only ever intended as a ‘parking place’ ended up ‘live’, with people attending and expecting to be heard, causing the crowding and confusion you describe).
The courts didn’t realise this had happened until very shortly in advance, and had several days’ worth of ‘bucket lists’ listed as live; they immediately addressed the issue for future dates so that the problem didn’t persist, and introduced triage systems to manage footfall, together with communications, explanations and apologies. Where possible, people were given the option to wait or be adjourned. Some cases were dealt with on the day. The other cases were adjourned to a fixed future hearing date (not another ‘bucket list’). About 20 people attended at Thames on Tuesday this week and about 50 at Highbury. All those which could not be accommodated were seen and assisted before 12pm.
We are managing issues on remaining days and local teams are putting together a renewed package of support to reduce risk of this problem reoccurring. Cases are now being listed into the courts on a planned basis rather than into ‘bucket lists’. We are looking more widely at this for any future occasion when we need to adjourn groups of cases – because in moving cases wholesale into these ‘bucket lists’, courts effectively created a problem that I don’t think we needed to have (and gave staff an additional administrative task in repeatedly adjourning them off), as well as creating the risk that materialised in this case, of a ‘parked’ list accidentally being treated as real. We know we need to find better ways of dealing with those cases that can’t be listed into fixed slots than this.
Once again, I am very sorry for the confusion caused by this. I offer the explanation above to reassure that this was not part of a policy to list hundreds of cases; but I know it doesn’t make particularly edifying reading; and please do rest assured that we’re determined it won’t be repeated.