UK Criminal Cases Backlog May Take a Decade to Clear

Findings by the inspectorate monitoring the Crown Prosecution Service has warned that a growing backlog of cases could take upwards of a decade to clear under pre-pandemic conditions.

A new report published on Tuesday by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) has found that a backlog of criminal cases being handled by the Crown Prosecution Service is increasing at an alarming rate, owing to the challenges of maintaining social distancing and maintaining a safe court environment.

The report estimated that trial backlogs in magistrates’ courts increased by 43% between the beginning of March and the end of May, while the backlog in crown courts increased by 53% in the same time period.

HMCPS chief inspector Kevin McGinty warned that the case count will continue to grow under current operating conditions: “Court sittings and courtroom capacity with social distancing requirements will not allow for reduction of the existing backlog,” he wrote in the report.

Some estimates show that the current scale of increase in the backlog would take 10 years to clear at pre-pandemic rates. Any major increase in the time taken to hear cases is likely to be highly detrimental to justice.”

The release of the report comes as the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, has announced that he is drafting emergency legislation to enable some trials to be held temporarily without juries in order to reduce the complications of social distancing in courtrooms. Earlier this month, the Ministry of Justice also announced its intent to establish emergency “Nightingale Courts” in alternative venues in order to decrease the mounting case backlog.

“These would use public spaces, such as civic centres or university moot courts, to allow traditional court buildings to manage more work while maintaining social distancing,” Ministry of Justice leaders said in the joint announcement.

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