Record levels of violent and sex crime cases in courts backlog for over a year

The figures were published by the Ministry of Justice.

Katie Williams
Wednesday 05 October 2022 13:50 BST
(Nick Ansell/PA)
(Nick Ansell/PA) (PA Archive)

A record proportion of violent and sex offence cases in the crown court backlog have been open for at least a year, figures show.

The Law Society of England and Wales, which represents solicitors, warned that trust in the criminal justice system is in jeopardy, with victims of even the most serious crimes facing long waits to get their case before a court.

The latest figures came ahead of this week’s vote by criminal barristers across the country on whether to end indefinite strike action – launched over issues around legal aid fees and conditions – after a pay offer from the Government.

Long waits for trial cause immense stress and misery for victims

Victim Support chief executive Diana Fawcett

Data released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) shows a total of 59,687 crown court cases were outstanding at the end of June.

Of these, 6,994 were for alleged sexual offences, 28% of which had been open for a year or longer – the highest proportion recorded since records began in 2014, and up from 20% at the end of June 2021.

Among those facing lengthy delays were 400 cases of alleged adult rape.

About 26% of the 14,502 outstanding cases involving violent crime had been open for at least a year at the end of June – also a record.

Diana Fawcett, chief executive of the charity Victim Support, said: “Long waits for trial cause immense stress and misery for victims. Sadly, wait times for court are only part of the problem – many people have already waited years from reporting the crime to the police to their case reaching the courts.

“This a particular problem for victims of sexual violence – our case workers are supporting victims who have been waiting upwards of five years to have their cases heard.”

The criminal justice system has been devastated by years of underfunding and cuts and there are not enough judges, barristers and solicitors to cover all the cases

Law Society president Stephanie Boyce

Law Society president Stephanie Boyce said the national backlog of criminal court cases has left victims and defendants facing “unacceptable delays”.

“The criminal justice system has been devastated by years of underfunding and cuts and there are not enough judges, barristers and solicitors to cover all the cases,” she added.

Trust in the system is in real jeopardy and a system collapse would embolden criminals.

“The UK Government is falling way short of addressing the crisis in the criminal justice system. You cannot fix the problems in the system unless you fund all parts of it effectively.”

Criminal barristers in England and Wales have been on a continuous walkout after their row with the Government over fees intensified.

Members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) are voting on whether to end strike action after being offered “a comprehensive package” including a 15% fee increase for new and existing cases, with a decision due on Monday.

Mark Fenhalls KC, chairman of the Bar Council which regulates barristers, welcomed news of the ballot and added that the Government should commit to a funding package for the justice system which would see every serious case in the crown court offered a trial date within six months.

The total number of outstanding crown court cases increased slightly from 58,398 at the end of March, but remained below the peak of 60,939 seen a year earlier.

However, caseloads are significantly higher than they were before the coronavirus pandemic – at the end of June 2019, the backlog stood at 34,521 cases.

A spokesman for the MoJ said: “Restoring the swift access to justice victims deserve is our absolute priority and we are spending almost half a billion pounds to reduce wait times, as well as boosting funding for victim support to £460 million over the next three years.

“On top of this, the Government has deployed a range of measures – including unlimited sitting days, Nightingale courts and increasing magistrate sentencing powers – that has so far reduced the backlog in the crown court by over 2,000 from its pandemic-induced peak and seen magistrates’ cases return to pre-pandemic levels.”

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