The backlog in crown court cases is “serious concern” for government inspectors overseeing the justice system, a new report found.
The study looking at 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 of litigation, which is having a wave of impact in all areas . of the legal system.
The backlog in the case predates the coronavirus pandemic, but the situation has been exacerbated by Covid-19 after crown courts closed and jury trials temporarily suspended for two months last year. Since then, the number of hearings has fallen as two or three video-linked courtrooms are now required per trial due to social distance measures.
The number of open cases at Crown Courts in England and Wales has increased 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 “Nightingale” courts to help ease pressure on the system . .
The four government superintendents – who oversee the probation, police, prison and Crown Prosecution Service – have banded together in the latest report to express “ serious concerns ” about the impact of Covid-19-related backlogs in England and Wales. .
The chief inspectors, who will testify before lawmakers in the Justice Commission on Tuesday, point to difficulties and long delays at all stages of the criminal justice process that “benefit no one and risk many harm”.
Justin Russell, Superintendent of Probation, said: “Crown Courts handle the most serious cases, so this backlog concerns all of us. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in severe delays and numerous cancellations in 2020, and this has had a negative impact on everyone involved. “
David Lammy, Labor’s shadow justice secretary, called the report “damning” and said the government had doubts, which could increase the backlog.
The Crown Prosecution Service said, “Safely reducing the backlog of lawsuits is vital so that we can ease the pressure on prosecutors and continue to provide justice. To achieve this we urgently work together with partners. “
The Justice Department said: “In recognition of the magnitude of the challenge we are facing, the government is investing £ 450 million to boost rehabilitation in the courts and speed up justice, and this is already showing results – the backlog of magistrates continue to decline and Crown Courts cases reached pre-pandemic levels last month.