Written evidence from Marc Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire.

 

 

This submission is made on behalf of Marc Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire.

 

The impact of Covid-19 on court sitting days and the backlog of cases, including whether the one-off additional funding and 4,500 additional days provided for 2020/21 is sufficient and staffing and recruitment issues;

 

The PCC is concerned about the impact that the court backlog will have on victims of

crime who will have to wait longer to know whether they will get justice.  The delays

and attrition rates also directly impact on victim services as they are supporting more

victims for longer whose needs may well be greater because of the stresses caused

by the court backlog at this time.  There are further impacts on the Force and the

wider Criminal Justice System as defendants will spend longer on remand/ in custody/ on bail. Ultimately, there is a risk that public confidence could be undermined.

 

 

Practical experience of delay in Crown and other courts among lawyers, witnesses, victims and defendants and whether there is appropriate access to justice;

 

The PCC contacted a number of local victim support service providers and asked for their practical experience of the delay.  Their feedback is detailed below, in their own words.

 

ISVA

 

CHISVA

 

 

IDVA

 

Witness Service (CAB)

As far as delays are concerned, witnesses, particularly those in complex and sensitive cases, are less willing to engage if their cases are delayed. The solution at the moment seems to be to double list cases. However this in itself causes issues in that one case gets heard and the other doesn't. This causes further traumatisation and delay to the witnesses in the case that doesn't get heard.

 

 

Witness Care Unit

On average each Witness Care Officer (WCO) currently holds 350 cases (the usual caseload is 180).

 

Witness Care are currently able to manage workloads as no courts are sitting.  The team are contacting victims and witnesses regularly; but mainly when there is an adjournment or update from the court and are setting that as an expectation at the outset.  The impact on the WCU remains highly dependent on the HMCTS recovery plan and extra resource is likely to be required in the coming months.  This will be a particular issue if the court were to start Saturday courts, etc.

             

Witness care officers are currently required to ask a number of additional questions in relation to COVID-19 2 weeks before the case is heard, which adds additional time when contacting each witness.

 

The team are seeing increased levels of uncertainty from victims and witnesses and members of the public are expressing their concern at the length of time the process is taking.  The longer this continues the higher the risk is likely to be.

 

 

 

The extent to which courts have appropriate capacity post-Covid-19, including the extent to which courtrooms are idle across England and Wales;

 

The current status of Lincolnshire courts is as follows:

Lincoln Magistrates’ Court

Open

Lincoln Magistrates’ Court

Open

Lincoln Crown Court

Temporarily closed

Boston Magistrates Court

Temporarily closed

Boston County Court and Family Court

Temporarily closed

 

Due to the age of Lincoln Crown Court it has proven difficult to adapt the Court to make it safe to re-open.  Jury Trials are unlikely to take place at Lincoln Crown Court until October 2020, which will further increase the backlog of cases.  Regionally a plan is being developed to hear Lincolnshire trials in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire courts, but details of this are yet to be finalised.

 

A limited number of Magistrates cases continue in Lincoln Magistrates Court; with many being adjourned. Cases with Custody Time Limits (CTLs) attached continue to be heard, along with some Domestic Abuse (DA) cases. From the 4th of December, it is likely that Offenders will be appearing at court (albeit slots will be reduced in order to maintain social distancing).

 

There are currently no Nightingale Courts in Lincolnshire, the closest being the Knights Chamber, Peterborough Cathedral. The PCC is in discussion with the Magistrates Court to identify potential suitable venues locally.

 

 

September 2020