Reducing the backlog in criminal courts – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: Reducing the backlog in criminal courts

Date Published: 9 March 2022

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Victims of crime are waiting even longer to access justice. As waiting times increase, so does the probability that a case collapses as victims withdraw from the process. Rape and serious sexual offences survivors are at the sharp edge of this trend, as these cases are more likely to progress to jury trials, which require more space and are more prone to delays. The committee is concerned that the Ministry of Justice (the Department’s) ambition to support victims is being frustrated by these delays and that victims’ confidence in the criminal justice system is being eroded.

An efficient court system keeps us all safer and empowers victims to move on with their lives. The criminal courts’ backlog of cases has rocketed, both before and since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The backlog in the Crown Court, which hears the most serious cases, increased by 23% in the year leading up to the pandemic, from 33,290 cases in March 2019 to 41,045 cases in March 2020. Since then, the backlog of Crown Court cases has increased by a further 46% to 59,928 cases in September 2021 as courts made changes to keep judges, court staff, and users safe.

The Department has secured funding from the Treasury to reduce the backlog to 53,000 cases by March 2025. But this modest ambition would mean the backlog in cases would be still considerably higher than before the pandemic. There are also significant, systemic challenges that threaten its achievement including having enough judges, legal professionals and local staff to support criminal courts. We also have significant concerns about the ability of the rest of the criminal justice system to respond to more cases flowing through the courts, particularly in the prison service.