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Crown Court Backlog

Volume 745: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2024

We remain committed to reducing the Crown court outstanding case load and have introduced a range of measures to achieve the same. We funded over 100,000 sitting days last year and plan to deliver the same again this year. We have recruited over 1,000 judges over all jurisdictions and plan to do the same again this year. Thanks to the intervention of the Lord Chancellor, we have secured £220 million for essential modernisation repair work over the next two years. As well as retaining Nightingale courts, the investments will also see 58 new courtrooms.

The fact is that the Crown courts how have a backlog of over 65,000 cases. If that is not bad enough, experts say the courts’ capacity to deal with processing cases will not keep pace with demand. Does the Minister agree that that leads to too many victims unfortunately giving up on our justice system?

No, I do not accept that that means we are giving up on the system. The Government continue to invest in every single lever that we can pull to increase capacity in our criminal justice system. Given the additional work that the judiciary is doing, the disposal rate in our Crown courts is up and we are seeing record levels of disposals, so we will start to see the criminal justice system heal, because we are still recovering from covid and the Criminal Bar Association strike.

Rape and serious sexual assault cases have increased to 10.3% of all Crown court cases and, with nearly 10,000 of them, they make up one in seven of the backlog. The average wait time for a trial after charge has risen to 18 months. We also know from the Criminal Bar Association that there has been a tenfold increase in adjourned cases due to the fall in the number of rape and serious sexual offence prosecution or defence barristers, with the Crown Prosecution Service now employing King’s counsel to fill the gap. Add to that the many legal aid deserts due to the shortage of solicitors and we have a major staffing crisis across the criminal justice system. How is that going to be fixed?

First, the figure that the hon. Gentleman quoted for the average time for a RASSO case is simply not true. The Government have continued to invest in ensuring that RASSO cases are brought forward. Listing is a matter for the judiciary, and they take great care to ensure that vulnerable victims are dealt with expeditiously. In addition, we continue to invest in the legal aid system. The Lord Chancellor recently increased the fees to ensure that there are people able to perform RASSO cases and section 28 video recording. On top of that, we continue to engage with the criminal legal aid review to see how we can continue to invest in and incentivise criminal defence barristers in the right parts of the system.