Four criminal justice watchdogs in England and Wales have warned that they have “grave concerns” about the impact of court backlogs caused by the pandemic
The criminal justice system within England and Wales is facing an “unprecedented and very serious” threat as the backlog in court cases within the two countries continues to grow amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Four top inspectors have joined forces in order to express their “grave concerns” about the current situation of criminal justice.
Justin Russell, chief inspector of probation, Sir Thomas Winsor, chief inspector of constabulary, Charlie Taylor, chief inspector of prisons, and Kevin McGinty, chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), issued the statement on Tuesday ahead of being questioned by MPs on the situation later.
This comes after the UK’s vaccines minister has said that he is hoping to target key workers in the country such as police officers, shop workers and teachers in the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
In a joint report, the inspectors spelt out how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the work of police officers, prosecutors, prisons and probation, as well as youth offending teams.
They concluded that the “unprecedented and very serious court backlogs constitute the greatest risk to criminal justice and the ripple effects across all agencies are profound”.
They pointed to, and stressed the impact of, the difficulties and lengthy delays along all stages of the criminal justice system in England and Wales that they said “benefit no-one and risk damage to many”.
According to the report from the Inspectors, the number of ongoing cases in crown courts within England and Wales was 44% higher than it was in December compared with February of last year, while some of these cases are already being rescheduled for 2022.
The criminal courts’ backlog stood at 457,518 as of November, according to the latest available figures from the Ministry of Justice.
There were 53,950 cases that were outstanding in the crown courts, with 403,568 outstanding cases in the magistrates’ courts.
This comes after the NHS is considering plans to discharge it’s patients into hotels as the nation’s hospitals become packed with COVID-19 patients, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has now confirmed, saying that it was “impossible to know” how long the nation-wide lockdown restrictions might last.
Speaking on behalf of all four inspectorates, Mr Russell said: “Delays mean victims must wait longer for cases to be heard; some will withdraw support for prosecutions because they have lost faith in the process.
“Witnesses will find it difficult to recall events that took place many months ago, and prosecutors waste significant periods of time preparing for cases that do not go ahead.”
He said that those accused of crimes in England and Wales also face delays with their opportunities to defend themselves, are being kept longer on remand, while prisoners are continuing to experience a “highly restrictive prison regime or experience delays in accessing rehabilitation programmes and support through probation services”.
Diana Fawcett, Victim Support’s chief executive, warned that it could potentially take “years” for the criminal justice system to recover, saying that the charity is “incredibly concerned that thousands of victims will fall through the gaps”.