The time has come to have an open and honest debate about short term solutions
Speaking after the Criminal Justice Joint Inspection published its report Impact of the pandemic on the Criminal Justice System today, the APCC's Lead for Criminal Justice David Lloyd said:
“Police and Crime Commissioners have had concerns about the backlog of cases in the criminal justice system for some time - even before Covid-19.
“But a bad situation has been made much worse as a result of the pandemic. As today’s report notes, the situation is now critical. We strongly support the report’s conclusion that there is a need for urgent and significant action to address the backlog in cases. Hundreds of thousands of victims’ lives are basically on hold. One can only imagine the impact where a case has been adjourned multiple times, or where victims are being told their case will not go to court until years after the offence occurred.
“There is a risk here, not just in terms of victims and witnesses but in wider public confidence in the criminal justice system. People will ask what is the point of reporting a crime to the police if it will take years for the case to go through the system?
“We acknowledge the huge efforts of HMCTS. Real progress has been made in the magistrates’ courts but the real concern for PCCs lies in the crown courts and specifically with the most serious and complex trial cases.
“Additional funding is extremely welcome but it will take time to mobilise resources. And the system still has to deal with limitations on capacity as a result of social distancing, plus the finite availability of legal advisors, staff, prosecutors, and judiciary.
“Similarly, innovative use of technology can assist but is not a silver bullet to address this backlog.
“We also need to seriously and urgently consider the options for changing the constraints and parameters HMCTS are operating under.
“The time has come to have an open and honest debate about more radical, short term, solutions. This may include changing how the system deals with crown court trials and the criteria for cases being sent to trial in crown court, for a time-limited period. The alternative is a backlog in the crown court which will take several years to clear; representing a failure of the system for victims, witnesses, and defendants.”