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Criminal Court Backlogs

Volume 732: debated on Tuesday 16 May 2023

1. What recent estimate he has made of the size of the backlog of criminal court cases in Preston constituency. (904934)

The outstanding case load at Preston Crown court stood at 1,454 cases at the end of December 2022. We are taking action across the criminal justice system to bring the caseload down and improve waiting times for those who use our courts. We have ramped up the additional capacity, we have recently announced the continued use of 24 Nightingale courtrooms in this financial year, and we are investing a significant amount of funding in the criminal justice system.

The backlog of court cases means that victims of rape, sexual abuse and violent crime face years of delay in their fight for justice. The emotional burden of the trial and delays have led to victims dropping out of the process and feeling that they would be unwilling to engage again in future. That has happened to a Preston constituent of mine who, after five years, is still waiting for her court case. Does the Secretary of State believe that that is an acceptable state for the British justice system to be in?

I appreciate, and I know that colleagues in the judiciary appreciate, the sensitivities around such cases. They will always do their best to bring vulnerable cases forward so that victims are seen as fast as possible. There can be a variety of reasons why cases are delayed. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me with the specifics of the case, I can try to find out exactly what caused the delays.

The Government are likely to miss their own targets on reducing Crown court backlogs. Wait times for rape and sexual assault cases are at an all-time high. I have two Rotherham families who have been waiting years for access to court for corporate manslaughter cases, and countless victims of sexual abuse who do not know when they will get their day in trial. Thirteen years of erosion of our public services have led us to this point. What exactly will the Minister do to deal with the trauma that victims, survivors and their families in my constituency are facing with such waits? Their lives are on hold. What is he actually going to do today to address that?

Sexual offences are an incredibly sensitive issue, and the hon. Lady is right to raise it. The Department is working with the judiciary to consider specialist support in several courts to ensure that such cases are brought forward in a faster manner. There can be a variety of reasons why cases are delayed. As I said to the hon. Member for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick), if hon. Members write to me on specific cases, I can find out why they have been delayed. It can be for a variety of reasons and not just because of the general backlog.

We are dealing with the backlog. It was coming down before the Bar strike, which pushed it back up. In the meantime, we have increased the judiciary across all our courts by 10% in the last five years—we have recruited more than 1,000 judges this year and will recruit 1,000 next year—we have taken the cap off sitting days, and we have 24 Nightingale courts still in use. Those are the practical measures that we are taking to increase capacity.

I am not quite sure what to do with that question, Mr Speaker. If my right hon. Friend would like to write to me on the details of that particular court, I will see if there are any lessons we can learn from our Rwandan colleagues.

As part of reducing delays in family courts, we need substantial law reform, so I welcome the Department’s decision to refer financial remedy reform to the Law Commission for a review. The problem is causing dramatic delays, costs and uncertainty for thousands of families across the country. Baroness Deech and I are holding an event in the House of Lords next month with Mr Justice Mostyn and Baroness Shackleton. Will the Ministry of Justice ensure that it is represented at that meeting so that it can listen, learn and ensure that we get some changes?

We appreciate all the issues raised by my hon. Friend, who has been a long-term campaigner on family law. I guarantee that either a senior official or a Minister will attend that meeting.

We have heard the human cost of the Government’s policies, but I have had the pleasure of facing several—four or perhaps five—Justice Ministers across the Dispatch Box who claimed they would sort out the courts backlog. They have all failed. Contrary to what the Minister said, Crown court cases increased by 6% on the previous year in February: up 3,500 to nearly 61,000. Magistrates court cases were up 1,600 to more than 345,000. President of the Law Society Lubna Shuja has said:

“The data cuts through the rhetoric and clearly shows that delays in the criminal justice system aren’t coming down anytime soon.”

What new rhetoric does the Minister have today?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for not asking a question about Common Platform, which makes a refreshing change. On the issue of reducing the backlog, it is not rhetoric—these are facts. The outstanding case load—

Well, if the hon. Gentleman waits until the figures are published at the end of June, he will see that the case load is coming down. I repeat: this is not rhetoric. These are facts. More judges this year, more judges next year, more money in the criminal justice system for legal aid, Nightingale courts, uncapped sitting days—these are practical measures that will improve access to justice.

Well, they are working. The hon. Gentleman will not want to admit it, but if he waits to see the facts when they are published, I hope he will then realise that we are taking tangible action to improve the capacity of our courts.

Don’t forget that Chorley court is still empty—we’ll take the capacity problems that Preston has.