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Covid-19: Backlog of Court Cases

Volume 691: debated on Thursday 18 March 2021

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of steps taken by the CPS to tackle the increased backlog of cases before the courts as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. (913663)

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of steps taken by the CPS to tackle the increased backlog of cases before the courts as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. (913667)

Notwithstanding the pandemic, the courts have continued to operate and the Crown Prosecution Service has continued to play its part in our justice system. I was very pleased to read the recently published report by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate on the CPS’s response to the court backlogs in the light of covid. The report reflects the CPS’s hard work, and finds that over the pandemic it has maintained its ability to function well, and to continue to deliver its essential public services.

Will my hon. and learned Friend tell me what reassurance I can provide my constituents that the most serious cases are being prioritised, to ensure the protection of the public?

Ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice, and that the public are protected, is a priority of the Attorney General’s Office, of the CPS and of this Government. To achieve that, with the CPS working with the police, we introduced an interim charging protocol last year. The protocol prioritises the most important cases, and I am really pleased that those cases include high harm cases and those with vulnerable victims, such as rape and domestic abuse.

How can I reassure the people of Ashfield and Eastwood that victims of violence against women and girls will continue to receive justice in spite of delays caused by the backlog?

As I have mentioned, I share my hon. Friend’s view that it is vital that we continue to speedily prosecute those accused of violence against women and girls. I know that the Prime Minister shares that as a priority for our Government. We have put in place a number of measures to reduce the impact of delays on victims. Those include special measures allowing vulnerable victims and witnesses to pre-record their cross-examination ahead of the trial date, which were rolled out at all 82 of our Crown Courts by last November. That is just one of the measures we have taken to ensure the continued better operation of the system for our most vulnerable victims.

Court staff in London and Liverpool recently voted for strike action, and listening to evidence from the Public and Commercial Services Union to the Justice Committee this week it is easy to understand why, when PCS members are having to improvise their own perspex screens to protect themselves from covid after managers said it was unaffordable. Does the Solicitor General appreciate how this cavalier approach to health and safety by management has left court staff scared, angry and prepared to take strike action?

I appreciate the amazing work that everyone in our justice system is doing on the frontline. As a former Prisons Minister, I recognise what prison officers are doing and I know that HMCTS has done a tremendous amount of work to make our courts safe. I pay tribute to all the work of court staff who are going in and allowing our justice system to continue. HMCTS has put in a number of measures, and my understanding is that it is no less safe to be working in a court than in any other environment.