Crown Court backlog causes exposed

Urgent action is needed to reduce the Crown Court backlog which is extending misery for victims and defendants, the Law Society has warned following the National Audit Office report.

“The National Audit Office report paints a compelling picture about what has caused the huge backlog of criminal court cases,” said Law Society of England and Wales president Nick Emmerson.

“The UK government’s shortsighted approach to justice including more than a decade of underfunding of our criminal justice system, has resulted in a chronic shortage of judges and lawyers, huge backlogs, crumbling courts and prison spaces running out.

“Of most importance is the impact that each delayed case has on the mental health and ability to move on of victims, witnesses and defendants, who face unacceptable waits to access justice.

“The report correctly highlights the decline in lawyers working in the criminal defence profession which is due to a reduction in legal aid fees, increasing levels of stress and poor working conditions. There simply are not enough solicitors, barristers and judges to do all the work and few young lawyers are attracted to the criminal defence profession.

“It also rightly points to the dilapidated state of much of the court estate* and the failure to deliver prisoners to court on time as factors which only add to the delays.

“An alarming lack of progress has been made in reducing the backlog. In fact, it continues to worsen** with the government’s target of reducing outstanding Crown Court cases to 53,000 by March 2025 no longer achievable.

“Urgent action is needed, including sustained investment across the criminal justice system, to ensure timely justice for all. If the government had listened to our warnings sooner, it would not have found itself in the critical state we now see with emergency measures being taken to deal with the crisis over prison spaces.

“The poor handling of Operation Early Dawn highlights the need for better engagement with legal professionals when such emergency measures are introduced. Solutions to the backlog will only be found if there is cooperation and communication with all those who work in the criminal justice system.”

Notes to editors

• * See our five-point plan to help tackle the court backlog here.

• ** See March 2024 backlog figures here.

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 7320 5764

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS