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Sex crime trial backlog up 71% in London

·3-min read
An analysis of Ministry of Justice data carried by City Hall shows that 940 cases committed for trial or an alleged rape or other sexual offence had yet to be completed. (Nick Ansell/PA) (PA Archive)
An analysis of Ministry of Justice data carried by City Hall shows that 940 cases committed for trial or an alleged rape or other sexual offence had yet to be completed. (Nick Ansell/PA) (PA Archive)

The “disastrous” impact of court delays on victims of rape and other sex crimes in London has been revealed, with figures showing the backlog for trials in such cases has risen by 71 per cent.

An analysis of Ministry of Justice data carried out by City Hall shows that 940 cases committed for trial for an alleged rape or other sexual offence had yet to be completed.

That compares with a backlog of 550 cases a year earlier, meaning that an extra 390 complainants are waiting to see whether their alleged attacker will be convicted.

The average time taken for a case to be heard from the moment it is received in one of the Crown Courts has also risen to 310 days.

That is leap of 60 per cent in a year and represents both the longest average delay for any part of the country and a record high for the the capital.

The cases affected include one in which a woman who reported a rape in 2019 has been told that her alleged attacker is not due to go on trial until March next year.

In another delayed prosecution, a rape complainant has had the trial date for the suspect in their case delayed by 11 months.

Another woman who reported a sexual assault has seen the Crown Court trial of her suspected attacker postponed twice at the last minute and is now still awaiting a new date for the hearing.

The data provides no explanation for the delays - which do not include the often longer hold ups during the investigation process before cases get to court.

But lawyers and campaigners have previously highlighted a shortage of court rooms and available judges, as well as an exodus of criminal barristers as contributing to the problem on top of the impact of the Covid pandemic.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is understood to be preparing a large cash injection of as much as £1 billion in Wednesday’s Budget to help reduce the backlog amid warnings from the Victim’s’ Commissioner for England and Wales and others that delays are adding to the trauma suffered by women and increasing the chances of cases collapsing to allow offenders to escape justice.

The delays also mean that suspects who are later acquitted have to spend longer waiting for their names to be cleared while the stigma of the charges against them hangs over them.

Today Sophie Linden, London’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, warned that urgent action was needed to reduce delays and stop cases collapsing as victims give up.

“These lengthy delays are having a disastrous impact, putting victims through more trauma and uncertainty, and increasing the likelihood of a victim choosing to withdraw from the justice process altogether,” she said.

“It’s unacceptable to expect a rape victim to put their life on hold while they try to pursue justice.”

Adding that she was “incredibly worried about the backlog”’and the “huge delays” affecting trials fornrape and other sexual offences, she said major investment was needed to maximise the efficiency of long-established courts and to maintain the new Nightingale courts opened during the coronavirus pandemic.

She added that funding for support services, including the provision of Independent Sexual Violence Advocates to help complainants, was required to improve the chances of justice being achieved.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab insisted last month that the government is “continuing to pull on every lever to ensure the criminal justice system recovers as quickly as possible from the pandemic” as he announced the opening of a fifth Nightingale courts in London to add to the four already operating in the capital.

Mr Raab added: “Major challenges remain which is why we are investing hundreds of millions to further increase capacity, deliver swifter justice and support victims.”

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