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Crown Court Case Backlog

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2024

We remain committed to reducing the outstanding caseload in the Crown court and have introduced a range of measures to achieve that aim. We funded over 100,000 sitting days in the last financial year and plan to deliver the same this year. Thanks to our investment in judicial recruitment, we expect to recruit more than 1,000 judges across all jurisdictions. We are investing over £220 million over the next two years, not just to improve maintenance but to ensure that the number of courts taken out of action for unplanned maintenance is reduced.

I am reassured by that answer, but can I press the Minister on other delays in the justice system? I have spoken to police officers who are incredibly frustrated by the delay in prosecuting those who they have arrested for multiple offences of shoplifting. What reassurance can the Minister offer to police officers in those circumstances?

It is a concern to hear that police officers remain concerned. Some of the latest performance statistics suggest that the gap between charge and first listing is falling—the latest data shows it is down two days, to 31 days. I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss any local issues he may have identified that are causing delays. Magistrates, who tend to deal with shoplifting cases, are among the most efficient parts of our justice system and list clear cases incredibly rapidly, but I am more than happy to discuss this further.

In the light of the Post Office scandal, does my hon. Friend agree that it is imperative that we not only clear the backlog as quickly as possible, because there have been deaths involved, but enable the Justice Secretary to strip the Post Office of its powers to independently prosecute?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. It is vital that the delivery of justice is swift. We appreciate that the wait for trial can be extremely difficult for victims, so we are doing all we can to ensure that cases are heard more swiftly. We are urgently working on the detail of how to clear the names of the postmasters as quickly as possible, and further detail will be announced in due course. There should be no disparity between the standard of justice in private and public prosecutions, and we will carefully consider the findings of Sir Wyn Williams’s inquiry.

The latest criminal court statistics show a Crown court backlog of 66,547 cases, once again breaking records. The next quarter has just ended, so does the Minister expect the figures to break records again?

In addition to the measures that we have already taken—unlimited sitting days, recruitment of judges, investment in courts to ensure they are resilient, and extending Nightingale courts—I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are building 58 new court rooms to ensure we have capacity. I have not seen the figures on the backlog, but the latest figures for the number of disposals—[Interruption.] Our courts and our judges are working flat out, as are all members of the criminal justice system. I reassure him that the level of disposals being undertaken by our judiciary is up and the work of our judiciary is exemplary.