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Criminal Courts: Backlog

Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 12 September 2023

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and we remain committed to working with our partners across the criminal justice system to try to ensure that court processes are as efficient as possible. We have introduced a raft of measures to achieve that aim, including allowing courts for a third year in a row to sit for an unlimited number of days, with extended use of 24 Nightingale courtrooms. In addition, we have opened two permanent super-courtrooms in Manchester and Loughborough and are recruiting an additional 1,000 judges across all jurisdictions.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. In Suffolk, the backlog of criminal court cases remains stubbornly high, which is not only denying victims justice, but placing a huge burden on the police and costing the local taxpayer a fortune. Working with Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore, can my hon. Friend produce a comprehensive and bespoke plan that first clears the backlog, and then sets out a long-term strategy for the efficient functioning of the courts in the county?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that in Suffolk the disposals to March 2023 were up by 23% on the previous quarter, while the outstanding case loads slightly reduced in the same period. That reflects the hard work that is done with our partners to ensure that we get through the case load as fast as possible. We continue to work with the judiciary to identify how we can get the high workload moving more smoothly. Across the Department, and working with our partners, the Crown court improvement group continues to look at best practice and the local criminal justice board will always look at best practice across the country to see what we can do to ensure that his area continues to perform.

Is the Minister aware that the criminal courts are full of cases relating to joint enterprise, a terrible miscarriage of justice? Will he and the Justice team promise to meet me and the campaigning group JENGbA—Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association—to see whether we can clear the justice system of the many people who should never have been in the courts?

The hon. Gentleman has campaigned on that issue for some time, and I have met his colleague, the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), to discuss it. The data collection does not support the identification of cases relating to joint enterprise, but I understand that the Crown Prosecution is now doing an exercise on better data collection to see whether the issue that he continues to raise, quite rightly, is borne out by the data, and we can see what action we might take to address any injustices.

As the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) pointed out, chaos in our courts continues. Now, 500 security guards have voted for strike action after a pay offer worth just 38p an hour above the minimum wage. Peter Slator, chairman of OCS, which employs the guards, says in his annual review:

“This was an exceptional year where our colleagues went above and beyond to deliver reliable, high-quality services for our customers around the world in the most challenging circumstances. The reliability and resilience of our frontline colleagues during the pandemic has been exceptional.”

I am sure the Minister will agree that the Government should pay Mr Slator’s company enough for him to deliver fair pay. Will he intervene to stop further chaos in our courts?

Our courts are not in chaos. [Interruption.] I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman took the time to talk to all partners across the criminal justice system, they would bear that out. All elements of the criminal justice system, in whatever role they play, continue to ensure that it works smoothly. The pay award is a matter for the private sector employer; I will not intervene.