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Court Delays: Attrition

Volume 715: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2022

I am pleased to report that we are making progress on court delays in the Crown court. As of the end of March 2022, the outstanding backlog was 57,800, which is 5% lower than the peak of 60,700 cases in June 2021. Prior to the pandemic, the outstanding caseload had reduced significantly from 46,100 in 2010 to around 33,000 in late 2018. That underlines just how significant the impact of covid was. On attrition, we recognise the importance of addressing these issues, and that is why we are increasing victim support funding to £185 million by 2024-25. That will fund more than 1,000 independent sexual and domestic abuse advisers to help victims through the process.

Last year, a staggering 1.3 million cases were dropped because the victim could not carry on any longer. That is on top of extraordinarily low charge rates—7% for robbery and 3% for theft. For my community, that means that cases are delayed, crime is up and charges are down. The Minister talked about progress, but it is not quick enough, is it?

These are important points. Attrition is most important with regard to rape. As the Deputy Prime Minister has said, the total number of rape convictions was up 67% last year, and I can confirm that in the last quarter of last year they were up 15%, so we are making progress but we want to go further. That is why it is so important that we have put in place all the measures to increase capacity in our courts and it is why the backlog is now falling.

The Minister is right to highlight the work that is being done to increase support for victims, but he will be aware that the Justice Committee published a report on court capacity on 27 April. I look forward to hearing his response to it. In the summary, we highlight that despite efforts from the Government to go in the right direction:

“Delays in the Crown Court have reached a point where they are causing significant injustice.”

Is it not the reality that solving this will require not just victim measures but, more significantly, a root-and-branch attempt to tackle all the elements of delay, which relate to judicial capacity, physical capacity and maintenance of the estate, improved data and technology and improved processes in the Crown court? All those must come together, and that requires sustained investment. Will the Minister respond in detail to the report in due course?

I look forward to responding to it. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about resources, and that is why we had almost £0.5 billion of funding in the spending review settlement, particularly to tackle Crown court backlogs. He is also right to talk about judicial capacity. As we came out of the pandemic, having resisted the temptation to lock down again at Christmas, we reopened 60 courtrooms that had been closed, so we have the rooms, more or less—with some local variance—but he is right to say that we need judicial capacity. One key issue in the recruitment of judges was the pension scheme, but we have just had Royal Assent for a new scheme, which should address that important aspect of capacity in our courts.

Let me remind the Minister that 67% of a small number is still a small number. The recent criminal justice joint inspection report into pandemic recovery noted:

“The prospect of waiting years for justice is likely to be traumatising for victims and their families and has a damaging impact on justice itself, making it more likely that victims will drop out of cases”.

We know that the Ministry has secured funding to reduce the backlog to 53,000 cases by 2025, but that number still dwarfs pre-pandemic figures. We all want timely justice for defendants and victims, so can the Minister confirm how long on average people are waiting for their cases to come to court, and what impact the additional funding will have on cutting those waiting times?

These are, as I said, important points. I am glad the hon. Gentleman recognises that we have committed the funding. Where is it going? For the second year on the trot, we have removed the cap on sitting days in the Crown court, which is probably the single most important aspect of delivering capacity. We are also doing it through legislation.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we recently had Royal Assent for the Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022, which is a key measure in helping us to increase magistrates’ sentencing powers, releasing up to 1,700 days in the Crown court. That is 1,700 days when we can hear serious cases—rapes, murders and all the rest—to get through the backlog, because capacity is key. I have always said that it is about taking a joined-up approach. We have the funding in place and we have the legislation. It is such a shame that the Opposition could not support us.