Suffolk PCC shares concerns over 'very serious' court case backlog
- Credit: Archant
Suffolk's police and crime commissioner has said he shares the concerns of a report detailing the "very serious" court case backlog in England and Wales.
Four top inspectors have joined forces to express their "grave concerns" about the situation with criminal courts, which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a joint report, Justin Russell, chief inspector of probation, Sir Thomas Winsor, chief inspector of constabulary, Charlie Taylor, chief inspector of prisons, and Kevin McGinty, chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), issued the warning on Tuesday.
They spelt out how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the work of police, prosecutors, prisons, probation and youth offending teams.
They concluded that the "unprecedented and very serious court backlogs constitute the greatest risk to criminal justice and the ripple effects across all agencies are profound".
Although they praised the commitment of staff and highlighted efforts to continue working amid the crisis, particularly remotely, many areas of concern were raised.
Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said: "I personally share the concerns detailed in this report. Supporting victims of crime is a key part of my role as PCC and any delay in their access to justice is very concerning.
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“I appreciate this is a particularly difficult time for everyone and I know those working in our courts are doing all they can, but with social distancing requirements this is one hell of a challenge."
According to the report, the number of ongoing cases in crown courts was 44% higher in December compared with February last year, while some cases are already being scheduled for 2022.
The criminal courts backlog stood at 457,518 as of November, the latest available figures from the Ministry of Justice show.
There were 53,950 cases outstanding in the crown courts and 403,568 outstanding in the magistrates' courts.
According to the data, the overall number of outstanding criminal cases has fallen slightly since October.
But it is still about 100,000 higher than figures for February 2020, before the country first went into lockdown in March.
The report comes as the Bar Council, which represents around 17,000 barristers, called for a cash injection of an extra £55million to improve courts and increase capacity for hearings in a bid to cut the backlog.
The government said it was investing £450 million to "boost recovery in the courts and deliver swifter justice", insisting this was "already yielding results".
The CPS said safely reducing the backlog was "vital" to ease pressure on prosecutors, adding: "We are working urgently with partners to achieve this."
Mr Passmore added: "I am pleased to hear investment is being channelled into the court system as it is desperately needed to reduce the backlog. I know of some cases in Suffolk which I am told may not be heard until next year which is deeply worrying.”
“Despite the delays, it is still vitally important that victims feel confident to report crime, and access services to help them cope and recover from what they have experienced.”