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Court Delays: Covid-19

Volume 683: debated on Tuesday 3 November 2020

If he will bring forward a strategy to support victims affected by court delays as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. (908307)

If he will bring forward a strategy to support victims affected by court delays as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. (908309)

If he will bring forward a strategy to support victims affected by court delays as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. (908315)

We continue to make significant progress on criminal courts’ recovery. Since August, magistrates courts have consistently completed more cases than they are receiving. In the Crown court, millions of pounds have been invested in perspex screens, technology and Nightingale courts to enable thousands of hearings to be listed each week. Significant progress, too, has been made to accelerate the roll-out of the section 28 pre-recorded cross-examination service to support alleged victims to give their best evidence.

Rape is a violent and devastating crime, putting enormous pressure on its victims, who may view the trial of their rapist as a second violation. Across the north-east, rape victims are waiting months and months for their trials to start and Northumbria police and crime commissioner Kim McGuinness tells me that that is putting enormous strain on their mental health. What support is the Minister providing, specifically to victim support organisations such as the sexual exploitation hub in my constituency, and what is he doing to make sure that more trials can take place?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this point, and I am grateful to her for doing so. We take this extremely seriously. Of the £76 million that we allocated to victims’ organisations, a full £20 million was rolled out through PCCs to provide the community support that she refers to, but that did not emerge from a clear blue sky. We were also providing money for independent sexual violence advisers to support victims as they progress through the criminal justice system. The critical thing is to keep the courts going during this pandemic. That is what we are doing when others might not have done, and we are proud of what Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is providing.

In Hull North, levels of antisocial behaviour in areas such as Orchard Park, Beverley Road, Pearson Park, Princes Avenue and Kingswood have been growing, and the perpetrators behave as if they were beyond the reach of the justice system and the law. What discussions has the Minister had with his counterpart in the Home Office about a specific strategy for communities where antisocial behaviour is growing to work with victims affected by court delays, and will he meet me to discuss what more can be done?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. Let the message go out in Kingston upon Hull that people who want to perpetrate antisocial behaviour should understand that the courts are operating, that the police are there to make arrests and that justice will be done. That is what is being delivered during this pandemic, thanks to the hard work of plenty of people. On her final point, of course, I would be delighted to meet her to discuss this matter further.

I hope the Minister will meet with me as well to discuss this matter. The delays, as my colleagues have already said, have meant that victims of serious violent crime, such as rape, sexual abuse and other kinds of crime, are facing a double threat: first of the crime and then of the delay. That is causing huge trauma. In the context of half a million unheard cases, can the Minister specifically state how many of the 200 additional court venues have been provided and how much additional funding has been provided to deal with the additional crisis caused by coronavirus?

Let me deal with this point about courts. Because so much money has gone into providing perspex and so on, the number of courtrooms available for trials is higher than the baseline. That is important. Even before this pandemic, we had increased by 50% the amount of funding that was going into rape support centres, because we recognised the importance of providing that support. We will continue to support individuals through independent sexual violence advisers and through providing that capacity in our court system so that victims can get the justice they deserve.

The court backlog is not just a number; it is a tragedy for every victim who is awaiting justice. The Tory PCC for Hertfordshire wrote to Ministers back in June to say that victims were pulling out of trials and that criminals were walking away scot-free as a result. How many crimes need to go unpunished before Ministers will come before the House with a plan backed up by targets and resource so that criminals are brought to justice?

I regret that the hon. Gentleman has not read the plan that has been published, because if he had, he would know that in the magistrates courts the backlog is being eroded, because disposals have exceeded receipts since the end of July, and that the number of trial courts is higher than the baseline. If he had read the report, he would know that. This Government are keeping courts running and ensuring that justice will be served.