Serious Criminal Cases Backlog Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Serious Criminal Cases Backlog

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Excerpts
Tuesday 26th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, the noble and learned Lord fails to put this information in context. In the Crown Court, prior to the Covid pandemic hitting in March last year, the outstanding caseload was 39,000, which was well within the range of 33,000 to 55,000 over the last decade. Immediately before the pandemic hit, we had increased the number of sitting days in response to an incoming demand on the courts. He will be aware that we have taken various steps to ensure that delays are minimised. However, I agree with him on one point: that we should pay tribute to the judges, magistrates, jurors, witnesses, victims, lawyers, court staff, CPS staff and, if I may say so, MoJ officials who have made a monumental effort to deliver justice in very challenging times.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD) [V]
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With respect to the answer just given by the noble Lord, the Secretary of State’s response last week was complacent and lacked urgency. The four chief inspectors of probation, police, prisons and the CPS came together to produce a joint crisis report, expressing their grave concern about the “unprecedented and very serious” backlog of Crown Court trials—54,000-odd cases with trials scheduled into 2022—and the disastrous effects of these delays on victims, witnesses, youth offending teams, defendants and prosecutors. As long ago as July last year Caroline Goodwin, then chair of the Criminal Bar Association, pleaded with the Government to

“get serious and open up 50 more buildings and focus on criminal trials.”

Now many more are needed, along with much more funding to stave off collapse. Yes, efforts have been made and in difficult circumstances, but why the self-congratulation? Where is the urgency? What are the Government now going to do?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that there is no complacency whatever. In fact, in September we published a crime recovery plan to which members from all groups involved in the criminal courts contributed. That plan was put together after significant consultation and collaboration. It is now being implemented. We now have more rooms for jury trials. We have plexiglass to enable social distancing and are using Nightingale courts including, I am pleased to say, St George’s Hall in Liverpool, where I first saw justice in action. We are exceeding the goals in the plan. The target was 250 courts safe for jury trials by October; we have exceeded that number and are improving the position yet further.