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Criminal Justice Backlog

Volume 680: debated on Thursday 24 September 2020

Covid-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge for the criminal justice system, and significant cross-system working has been under way to keep cases moving through the system throughout the pandemic. Prosecutors and front-line CPS staff have continued to cover open courts throughout the outbreak. I pay tribute and put on record my sincere thanks to all the staff at the Crown Prosecution Service for continuing to support the justice system, and to the independent Bar and solicitors as well.

Following the comments of Judge Raynor, who accused the Government of systemic failure for not conducting trials in a reasonable time, what steps is the Attorney General taking with the Lord Chancellor to increase the number of safe and effective jury trials?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Actually, in the Crown court we safely resumed jury trials in England and Wales before any comparable jurisdiction in the world. With the full support of Public Health England and Public Health Wales, we were quicker off the mark to restart jury trials than our neighbouring countries. More than 900 jury trials have been listed since they recommenced on 18 May. I thank the Lord Chief Justice for his leadership in that area.

We have seen reports of some trials being listed for 2023, and in some cases court dates are not being given indefinitely. Does the Solicitor General agree with me that justice delayed is justice denied, and what is he doing to work to make sure that safe jury trials can be brought forward?

This is clearly a very important issue. We are performing better than comparable Commonwealth countries, but there is always more to do, and the hon. Member is right that we want to avoid delays as much as possible. For example, 128 rooms suitable for jury trials are currently available, and this will rise to 250 by the end of October. We are doing everything we can. The Crown Prosecution Service is now eating into its backlog—so the backlog is no longer increasing; it is decreasing—and will continue to do more. The Ministry of Justice has responsibility in this area.