Tom Franklin, chief executive of the Magistrates’ Association, said they were “very concerned about these further delays”.

He said: “Every case that is delayed has real-life consequences for victims, witnesses and defendants – and leads to magistrates and court staff sitting around waiting, rather than administering justice.

“That is a waste of resources, at a time when there are already large backlogs.”

Law Society of England and Wales president Nick Emmerson said they had asked the Ministry of Justice for more information “to understand the full implications of this emergency measure”.

“Victims, witnesses, defendants and lawyers will today turn up at magistrates’ courts across England only to find out that their cases have been delayed due to a crisis in prison and police cell capacity outside of their control,” he said.

“As of now, we understand that this pattern will be repeated every day that this emergency measure is in place.

“What is crystal clear is the prison spaces crisis is a consequence of the government’s approach to justice including over a decade of underfunding of our criminal justice system, which also sees chronic shortages of judges and lawyers, huge backlogs of cases and crumbling courts.”

Government officials say the pandemic is partly to blame, because it led to an increase in the number of people being held in prisons for longer, awaiting jury trial.

On Tuesday, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk told MPs there were currently nearly 16,000 people in custody awaiting trial and “plainly that has an impact”.

Using the mechanism being activated on Wednesday morning is not unprecedented, but it is acknowledged by those in government to be a significant move in response to a difficult situation.

The operation was previously triggered in the north of England for a week at the beginning of March.


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