30 September 2021

Backlog of crown court criminal cases reaches record levels

30 September 2021

The backlog of criminal cases waiting to be dealt with by crown courts in England and Wales has reached a record high, official figures show.

There were an estimated 60,692 outstanding cases, as of the end of June.

According to the quarterly figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), this is a 40% increase on the same period last year, when there were 43,217 cases recorded, and the highest level seen since the data started being recorded in 2014.

Around a fifth (19%) of cases have been outstanding for a year or more, up from 11% for the same period in 2020.

In the three months to June, there were 5,388 trials listed at crown courts – a 28% increase on the previous quarter which indicates the volume of cases coming to court was returning to pre-pandemic levels.

The MoJ report said: “The outstanding caseload continues to grow, although this growth has slowed and the latest management information from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service to July 2021 indicate that outstanding volumes have begun to stabilise.”

Stephanie Boyce, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said the figures “reflect that to date no significant inroads have been made”, adding: “Some trials are being delayed until 2023, leaving victims, witnesses and defendants disillusioned as they wait to access justice.

“With the easing of pandemic restrictions, physical court space is now less of a problem, but we are seeing the ability to run criminal courts at capacity hit by a lack of judges, court staff, prosecutors and defence lawyers.”

Derek Sweeting QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said efforts to cut waiting times were “not working quickly enough” and urged the Treasury to invest more in the justice system, adding: “Without a substantial reduction, both in the backlog and waiting times, the public will lose confidence in law and order.

Jo Sidhu QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “Investing in not just courts but the prosecutors and defenders who keep our creaking criminal justice system from collapse, is the only sustainable way to reduce this unacceptable backlog of cases and needless delay to trials, otherwise victims of crime will continue, understandably, to feel forgotten in their painful wait for justice.”

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “It is unacceptable that many victims are having to wait so long to seek justice.

“The pandemic put unprecedented constraint on our ability to hold jury trials, but we have made strong progress in the magistrates’ courts to reduce the number of outstanding cases.

“With new super court rooms, the extension of the nightingale courts into 2022 and limit-free sitting days in crown courts, we will restore the swift access to justice that victims deserve.”

A case can be classed as outstanding for a number of reasons, including because the defence and prosecution are still preparing for a trial, or they had to be rescheduled so a witness can attend, and will also refer to newly received cases.

The news comes as measures to allow victims of rape and sexual violence to have their cross-examination video recorded and played during a trial – so they do not have to face the traumatic experience of having to appear in person – were expanded to more crown courts in London and Durham.

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