The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts has published a scathing report regarding court delays. It says the proposed measures to reduce the backlog of cases are insufficient.

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Court delays

The pandemic has caused a significant backlog of cases in the criminal justice system. The government has introduced various measures to counter the problem. However, the House of Common Committee of Public Accounts has now published a report on the issue, and it says that more needs to be done.

The report concludes that victims, witnesses and defendants are subject to an unacceptable delay to justice. Victims of rape and serious sexual offences face particularly long delays, with the number of such cases waiting for longer than a year increasing by 400% since the pandemic.

“Meagre ambition”

The Ministry of Justice previously said it aimed to reduce the Crown Court backlog by less than 8,000 cases by March 2025. However, the Committee described this as a “meagre ambition”. The Committee was also unconvinced that reducing the backlog to 53,000 cases by March 2025 was realistic, given the slow pace of recovery and the lack of full-time circuit judges.

Even if the backlog is reduced, the Committee says that the prison system probably cannot cope with an increase in prisoners. In July 2021, it was predicted that there would be a shortfall of 4,000 prison places by the end of 2023. Funding has since been secured, but this will only cover half the shortfall.

Recommendations

Magistrates were given greater sentencing powers earlier this year, meaning they can now sentence a convicted defendant to up to 12 months in prison. It is thought this will help to reduce the number of cases that need to be sent to the Crown Court.

Even so, the Committee’s report outlined a number of other recommendations to expedite the recovery process. It says the Ministry of Justice must set a reasonable length of time for a case to be completed. This should be reported to the Committee within the next six months.

More independent sexual violence advisors (ISVAs) should be recruited to support victims of rape and sexual assault. Progress should be reported in the Ministry of Justice Treasury Minute response. It should also set out how it will make sure there are enough prison places to meet the expected demand.

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