Skip to main content

Criminal Court Case Backlog

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2023

The Government remain committed to reducing the outstanding case load in the Crown court and are working with partners across the criminal justice system to do so. For two years in a row we have removed the cap on the number of days the Crown court can sit, in order to increase capacity. We are recruiting up to 1,000 judges across all jurisdictions this year, on top of the 1,000 we recruited last year. We have also extended the use of 16 Nightingale courtrooms and opened two permanent super-courtrooms in Manchester and Loughborough so that there are more courtrooms available across the court estate.

Will the Minister give the figures for the backlog in north Wales, where my constituency of Clwyd South is located, and for Wales overall? Will he also comment on any particular factors that are affecting those figures in Wales?

As of December 2022, the outstanding case load in north Wales was 337 and the outstanding case load in Wales was 2,106—a 34% increase from pre-pandemic levels. As with every region, the outstanding case load in Wales has been impacted by the pandemic and the disruptive action by the Criminal Bar Association. As I have said, the Government remain committed to reducing the outstanding case load in the Crown courts, working with partners across the system.

The Government have introduced the use of pre-recorded evidence in rape trials and are trialling an extension for other cases to allow parties to provide information while memories are fresh. My attention has been drawn to a case that predates the roll-out, in which those involved had to wait three years to give evidence. What assessment does the Minister have of the effectiveness of pre-recorded evidence in speeding up the justice process?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. On the roll-out of pre-recorded cross-examination—known as section 28—to victims of sexual and modern slavery offences in all Crown courts in England and Wales, this has been available to children and vulnerable adults since November 2020. It is particularly important with those vulnerable witnesses to ensure that their evidence is taken while it is fresh. The impact of that on speeding up cases is important. Rolling it out across the whole estate may mean that the impact of that evidence is diminished. That is why it is part of a programme—not just section 28 video recording, but the work we are doing on capacity and judicial recruitment. It is a package.

I wonder whether the Minister has considered the Magistrates Association report “Inaccessible courts: a barrier to inclusive justice”, which shows that magistrates courts in England and Wales have serious accessibility failings. It says that impacts on the efficiency and fairness of the justice system and undermines efforts to recruit a more diverse magistracy. One in five magistrates courts do not have level access. In 30% of courts, magistrates with a disability cannot sit in some or all of the courts in the complex. A third of courts do not have accessible toilets for them, and half do not have hearing loop systems installed or operating. Just what has happened to all that cash the Government claim to be investing? It certainly is not addressing the basics.

The Government are committed to improving the whole court estate, not just magistrates courts. On diversity, we are investing £1 million. On the accessibility of our physical estate, I have taken a particular interest in ensuring that those magistrates who have specific needs are supported. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that investment in our court estate will continue to address all the issues that we face.