The backlog of cases in crown courts is causing “serious concern” among government inspectors overseeing the justice system, according to a new report.
The study which examined the impact of the pandemic on the criminal justice system concluded that the greatest risk to criminal justice in England and Wales stems from the “unprecedented and very serious” backlog in court cases that has a ripple effect on all parties. of the justice system.
The backlog predates the coronavirus pandemic, but the situation was exacerbated by Covid-19 after crown courts were closed and jury trials were temporarily suspended for two months last year. Since then, the number of hearings has dropped as two or three video-linked courtrooms are now required for each trial due to social distancing measures.
The number of cases pending in the Crown courts of England and Wales rose from 39,318 in early March to 53,318 in late November, according to HM Courts and Tribunals Service which has opened a number of new temporary courts “Nightingale” to help ease pressure on the system. .
The government’s four chief justice inspectors – who oversee the probation service, police, prison and Crown Prosecution Service – united in the latest report to express their “serious concerns” about the impact of the backlog linked to Covid-19 in England and Wales. .
The chief inspectors, who will testify before lawmakers at the justice committee on Tuesday, point to difficulties and long waits at all stages of the criminal justice process that “benefit no one and risk harming many.”
Justin Russell, Chief Probation Inspector, said: “Crown courts deal with the most serious cases, so this backlog affects us all. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in severe delays and numerous cancellations throughout 2020, and this has negatively impacted everyone involved. “
David Lammy, Labor’s shadow justice secretary, called the report “damning” and said the government had “hesitated” in allowing the backlog to grow.
The Crown Prosecution Service said: “It is vital to safely reduce the backlog of court cases so that we can ease the pressure on prosecutors and continue to deliver justice. We are urgently working with partners to achieve this. “
The Justice Department said: ‘Recognizing the scale of the challenge we face, the government is investing £ 450million to spur court recovery and faster justice, and this is already showing results – the The backlog of magistrates continues to decline and Crown court cases reached pre-pandemic levels last month.