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Sexual Offences: Delays to Trials

Volume 717: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2022

20. What steps he is taking to tackle delays to trials for (a) child and (b) adult victims of sexual offences. (900916)

The Government are committed to supporting the recovery of the courts for all court users, including those who face delays in accessing justice in serious sex cases. Of course, the listing of cases is a judicial function, and judges continue to work to prioritise cases involving vulnerable complainants and witnesses such as serious sex cases.

Timeliness is improving. The time that it takes for adult rape cases to be completed from charge continues to fall and is down by five weeks since the peak last year. I do not have the figures for child cases, which are not broken down on that basis. I confirm that we are increasing funding for victim support services to £192 million by 2024-25.

I thank the Minister for his reply. In Nottinghamshire last year, for cases involving rape the average time between a case arriving at the Crown court and being completed was 470 days—more than a year and three months. I am sure he agrees that that is completely unacceptable. I welcome the pilot of specialist courts to prosecute rape cases in just three areas, but that will not tackle the root causes of the backlog, which was growing long before the pandemic and which the Victims’ Commissioner says is due to underinvestment. When will the Minister reverse the cuts and ensure that everybody receives the justice they deserve?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She talks about the backlog being a problem before the pandemic, but I have to point out to her that the backlog was lower going into the pandemic than it was when Labour was last in power. There is always a backlog of cases. There are always outstanding cases. The point is that when the pandemic hit there was a complete and total collapse in our courts, because they were closed, and then we had two-metre social distancing and they took a long time to recover. But they have recovered and the backlog is coming down. She talks—[Interruption.] I am answering the hon. Lady’s question. She talks about funding. I can confirm that we put in almost half a billion pounds of funding into the spending review. That will ensure, for example, that this year, for the second year on the trot, we are removing the ceiling on sitting days in the Crown court. Provided we reduce the disruption we are experiencing now, we should be able to continue to reduce the backlog and deliver swifter and better justice for our constituents.

The Lord Chancellor claims that protecting women and girls is his No. 1 priority, yet victims of domestic abuse face an invasive legal aid application that turns many women and girls away. The recent means test review is a step in the right direction, but it still does not go far enough and leaves many vulnerable women representing themselves in court. Will the Minister outline what steps he is taking to increase legal aid accessibility for victims of domestic abuse and violence?

I can confirm, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, that our consultation on the means test threshold would result in 2 million more people having access to legal aid in civil cases and more than 3 million people having access in the magistrates court. In both cases, that could of course include domestic abuse. An important point in that consultation is that we are proposing that where property assets are in dispute in a domestic abuse case in relation to the means test and the capital test for civil legal aid, they would be removed. That underlines again, not just in criminal legal aid but in civil legal aid too, that the Government are putting in significant investment and driving very positive reform.