Criminal justice

Justice undermined by lack of progress on backlog

Official criminal court statistics for April to June 2021 published today (30 September) show an estimated 60,692 outstanding cases in the Crown Courts and 364,122 outstanding cases in the magistrates’ courts at the end of the quarter.*

“The official criminal courts statistics reflect that to date no significant inroads have been made into the Crown Court backlog,” said Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“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.

“Years of underfunding and cuts including court closures, caps on judicial sitting days and a lack of investment in legal aid have hit the criminal justice system hard, stretching it to breaking point.

“Another problem our members are facing is with how cases are listed, the lack of consultation with lawyers in relation to listing, and the difficulty getting in contact with courts when there are problems with listing due to a lack of court staff.

“Sustained investment is urgently needed across the criminal justice system to tackle the backlog, which pre-dates the pandemic but has been exacerbated by it,” added I. Stephanie Boyce.

“With a huge backlog of criminal cases to be heard and increased police numbers predicted to lead to more arrests, criminal defence lawyers are needed more than ever to provide access to justice but there are a diminishing number of criminal legal aid firms operating.

“The government must commit in the upcoming spending review to fund the legal aid system properly so that everyone – no matter their background – has access to legal aid when they are entitled to it.

“This, with measures to address the huge backlogs in civil and criminal courts, would begin to put the justice system on the long road to recovery.

“We have been highlighting the problems plaguing the justice system since long before the pandemic and now is the time for action before it’s too late.”

Notes to editors

*Criminal court statistics quarterly: April to June 2021

The Crown Court backlog is up 40 per cent compared to the previous year and one per cent on the previous quarter. This is the highest level of outstanding cases seen since the series began in 2014. Around a fifth (19 per cent) of the cases have been outstanding for a year or more.

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