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Crown courts facing record backlog of cases with almost 60,000 on waiting list

·2-min read

Crown courts in England and Wales are facing the longest backlog of outstanding cases ever recorded due to budget cuts and the pandemic, figures have shown.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) statistics have revealed there were 59,532 cases waiting to be dealt with by crown courts at the end of March 2021 – an increase of 45% on the first quarter of 2020 when there were 41,015.

This also marks a 4% increase on the previous quarter, when the number stood at 57,047.

Cases which are awaiting trial – rather than sentencing or an appeal – more than doubled from last year.

Of cases awaiting trial, drug offences saw the largest proportional increase compared with the previous year at 75%, followed by sexual offences which saw a 67% rise.

The average length of time a case has been on the waiting list has also increased sharply to 213 days – an increase of 46% from last year – while one fifth have been waiting for a year or more.

This comes despite early signs of recovery, as the volume of listed trials at both magistrates’ and crown courts rose.

Although the number of people being admitted to crown court and numbers being dealt with are now close to pre-Covid levels, receipts remain above disposals meaning the outstanding caseload is still increasing.

Financial impositions – money owed by defendants to the court – also reached £1.21 billion, maintaining levels seen since the end of 2019.

The monies owed, which include court fines, prosecutors’ costs, and compensation orders, has doubled since the start of 2015 when the figure stood at £571 million.

Opening of the Legal Year at Westminster Abbey
Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett of Maldon has suggested reducing the size of juries to clear crown court backlogs (Aaron Chown/PA)

This comes as the Lord Chief Justice suggested on Monday that reducing the size of trial juries would help clear the backlog of crown court cases.

Lord Burnett of Maldon, the most senior judge in England and Wales, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that the “deeply damaging” delays in the justice system were caused by years of budget cuts exacerbated by the pandemic.

This impacted rape conviction figures, with the number of suspects convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales being at the lowest level since records began in 2019-20.

The latest Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures for 2019-20 show 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales last year – down from 1,925 the previous year.

This comes despite reports of adult rape to police almost doubling since 2015-16.

The Government pledged to return to 2016 figures by the end of the current Parliament in the long-awaited Rape Review published this month.

MoJ statistics cataloguing outstanding crown court cases began in 2014.