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Ministers urged to tackle “damaging” trial delays by leading senior legal figure

  • Lord Mackay of Clashfern, former Lord Chancellor, says current delays are “contrary to justice”.

  • He also says the UK should not pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights.

  • “Politicians need to understand the importance of abiding by the rule of law, nationally and internationally”.

Current lengthy trial delays are condemned as “very damaging” and “contrary to justice” by one of the UK’s most distinguished legal figures.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who was Lord Chancellor to both Margaret Thatcher and John Major, says there needs to be action by the government to tackle the current crisis. 

The delays in the courts - which currently sees serious cases waiting many months to be heard - is a “terrible” and “sad” situation, he says. 

“People being kept in prison in custody waiting for a trial [for] years and years is just quite contrary to justice”, he says. 

“I really do believe that there has to be some action on the part of the executive to help the judges in overcoming this delay. 

“Because otherwise they can’t do the job for which they’re appointed” and the public ultimately suffers, he adds.

Lord Mackay makes his comments in an interview with the journalist Frances Gibb in the latest episode of the ground-breaking podcast series, The Judges: Power, Politics and the People, hosted by The University of Law.

Victims of crime are waiting up to five years for their cases to go to court. The number of prisoners held on remand without having been tried or sentenced has risen to 16,200, the highest level in 50 years and up from 9,000 in 2019 before the Covid pandemic.

In the episode launched today, Lord Mackay also says it is important that politicians understand the importance of keeping to the rule of law, nationally and internationally.

“I do think it’s clear that the rule of law is an important part of our constitutional arrangements - and that it’s right that we should keep it very much so, that we understand what the rule of law is, and that includes international law.”

There are calls among some MPs for the UK to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights if it blocks Government plans to send illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda.

But Lord Mackay adds that in his view, the UK should remain a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. “It’s part of what holds Europe together from the point of view of law.”

The former Lord Chancellor, who retired in 2022 from the House of Lords, also suggests that the old system under which he personally made judicial appointments was preferable to the current Judicial Appointments Commission. 

It is important, he says, that a single individual is responsible for appointments made, so that “you can say: it’s his decision, or her decision.”

A commission or committee did not bring that same accountability and would tend to make safer appointments. 

One of Lord Mackay’s appointments was that of Lord Bingham of Cornhill to be the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

At the time it caused a stir because of his lack of a criminal law background but he is widely acknowledged to have been the most outstanding judge of his generation.

You can watch the full episode here or you can listen to the podcast on The University of Law channel which is being streamed on all major services including Spotify and Apple.