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Crown Prosecution Service: Case Backlog

Volume 678: debated on Thursday 9 July 2020

1. What discussions she has had with the CPS on its role in reducing the backlog of cases waiting to come before the courts. (904519)

I share the concern about the growing backlog in the courts. Covid has presented an unprecedented challenge for our justice system, and the UK is a global leader when it comes to the Crown courts. Jury trials restarted in May. Digital tools have been harnessed in more than 10,000 cases, and all courts will reopen by mid-July. I am proud that prosecutors have continued to fulfil their responsibilities despite the pandemic, both remotely and physically, and the CPS has been actively involved in cross-government discussions to continue progressing work through the courts.

I join the Attorney General in commending the work of CPS staff and many others, including jurors, to keep our justice system running during the pandemic. Will she assure the House that measures taken to help reduce the backlog will not include judge-only-led trials?

The Lord Chancellor and I discuss a range of criminal justice issues on a regular basis. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Ministry of Justice is leading the court recovery plan, which it published last week. That plan includes a suite of measures, both legislative and non-legislative. The point is that nothing is decided, but I can reassure him that I am deeply committed to the right to jury trial.

I think that all members of the Select Committee on Justice would welcome that last comment about the importance of jury trials, as I do. On the court recovery plan, the Lord Chancellor told the Justice Committee that he would make all resource that was necessary available to seek to clear the backlog, including the Nightingale courts, which we have heard about, and sitting courts to maximum capacity. Will the Attorney General ensure that the CPS has the resources, in terms of not only money, but personnel—in-house lawyers, solicitor advocates and instructing independent members of the Bar, when necessary—to make sure that a competent qualified prosecutor is always available to prosecute cases wherever they are needed, to make sure that this backlog is dealt with?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The CPS is not immune to the impact of the backlog. I am pleased that throughout this pandemic it has coped remarkably well, despite the challenges. The recent inspectorate report published at the end of last month sets out in a lot of detail how well the CPS has responded to the difficulties. It is currently receiving 1.8 cases for every one that can be completed in the court. I should note that it has also successfully maintained its recruitment plans despite the pandemic, and we now have more than 300 new prosecutors within the CPS.

The recent HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate report found that it could take 10 years to clear the criminal case backlog, with 41,000 outstanding cases, in a criminal justice system on its knees. While Labour has been calling for Nightingale and covid-safe courts for the past four months, the Government have been discussing scrapping jury trials. So can the Attorney General confirm today when the Nightingale courts will be up and running, and how many victims of sexual violence are still waiting for their case to get to court?

I am glad that the hon. Lady has mentioned the recent inspectorate report, which I think gives a strong commendation to the CPS for its response to this pandemic. In comparative terms, there is a strong vote of confidence in the CPS’s resilience, digital capability and planning for difficulties such as these. She is right to mention the court recovery plan. As I have mentioned, the Lord Chancellor has published a detailed plan. Many measures are under consideration. There is a strong commitment to the right to jury trial, but no decisions have been made yet.