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PAC: MoJ’s “meagre” ambition to fix breaking CJS as year-plus waits for serious criminal trials more than trebles

9 March 2022

In its report today the PAC says the Ministry of Justice’ “meagre ambition” to reduce the Crown Court case backlog – which has nearly doubled since March 2019, to 59,928 - by “less than 8,000 by March 2025” is “unlikely to address unacceptable delays to justice for victims, witnesses, and defendants”. Since March 2020 alone, the number of Crown Court cases waiting longer than a year has increased by more than 340%.

The PAC says “victims of rape and serious sexual offences are facing unacceptable delays to justice” which “compound and extend their suffering and lead to too many cases collapsing”. The number of these cases waiting longer than a year to be heard has increased by more than 400% since the onset of the pandemic. As waiting times increase, so does the probability that a case collapses as witnesses and victims withdraw from the process. 

The PAC “remains unconvinced” of MoJ’s real “intentions to reduce waiting times in the Crown Court, given the slow pace of recovery” and that there are “significant, systemic challenges” to clearing the backlog, including the numbers of trained judges, legal professionals and local staff to support criminal courts.

It also “remains unconvinced that the prison system will cope with the likely increase in prisoners”, given the planned increase in police officers and planned reductions in the criminal case backlog.

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“The Crown Court backlog has doubled since March 2019, to 60,000 of the most serious criminal cases waiting to be heard. We acknowledge the difficulties created by the pandemic but the figures show that but these problems were evident before Covid hit. The Ministry of Justice says it will take 2 years to cut this backlog by less than a sixth. 

It’s just not good enough. The number of people waiting more than a year to have a serious criminal case heard has more than trebled since March 2020 from already unacceptably high levels. Government can’t keep shrugging off the question of what adding 20,000 new police officers to the mix will do.

The Ministry of Justice must look at the challenges it’s facing in the round and come up with a plan that deals with them, not worsens them.”

Further information

Image: MoJ