England’s top judge has criticised “impenetrable” criminal justice legislation which is placing a “continuing burden” on the courts.
In a report, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge wrote that the difficulties of trying to comprehend and apply such legislation is causing cases waiting trial to be delayed.
This is to the “disadvantage of the defendants awaiting trial, the witnesses to the events which bring the defendants to court and the victims of those alleged crimes”, he said.
He pointed out that grappling with the legislation is a problem which applies not just to the Court of Appeal but to the workings of every Crown Court and magistrates’ court in England and Wales.
In his introduction to the second annual review of the work of the criminal division of the Court of Appeal since his appointment as Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge said: “It has been another year of unremitting commitment to the administration of criminal justice. That is as it should be.
“What remains less tolerable is the continuing burden of comprehending and applying impenetrable legislation, primarily but not exclusively in relation to sentencing.”
He added: “The search for the legislative intention in the context of criminal justice legislation makes unreasonable demands on the intellectual efforts of judges and lawyers. It all takes time, very much more time than it took even a decade ago, to grapple with the difficulties.”
Lord Judge said: “It would be comforting to believe that the problems have now been solved and that we can look forward to a year of quiet application of well understood and established principles. That will not happen.
“It is, for example, inevitable that some extremely vexing questions will arise as we struggle to follow the legislative intention which removed the former partial defence to murder, provocation, and replaced it with the new concept of loss of control, with its qualifying triggers.”
The report, which covers the period from October 2009 to September this year, also shows that the criminal division of the Court of Appeal has faced an increasing number of appeals against both sentence and conviction, as well as more applications for leave to appeal against sentence and conviction.