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Backlogs spiral in crisis-ridden criminal justice system
London's Old Bailey Pic: Shutterstock

28 Mar 2024 / britain Print

Backlogs spiral in British criminal-justice system

The "underfunded and crisis-ridden" criminal-justice system is failing victims and defendants with huge court delays continuing to spiral, the Law Society of England and Wales has warned.

New figures published by Britain’s Ministry of Justice today (28 March) show:

  • A Crown Court backlog reaching 67,573 by the end of December 2023, 8% higher than December 2022 (62,628 cases),
  • 18,045 of those Crown Court cases have been outstanding for a year or more including 6,523 that have been outstanding for two years or more,
  • A magistrates’ court backlog that increased by 7% on the previous quarter to 370,731 at the end of December 2023.

“The backlog figures show the depth of the crisis our criminal justice system is in,” said Law Society President Nick Emmerson.

“Decades of underfunding and cuts have left us with a justice system which is failing victims and defendants, who are having to wait far too long to access justice, with thousands of cases outstanding for more than two years."

'Crumbling' courtrooms

“The courtrooms themselves are crumbling and adding to the delays. There aren’t enough judges and lawyers to cover the cases," the president said.

"Pay and conditions to work in the system are unattractive and court staff are undermanned and under pressure. Eligible people can’t access legal aid because changes to the means test have been delayed. Prisons are overcrowded, with inmates being released early to free up space.

“The British Government’s own unambitious target of reducing the Crown Court backlog to 53,000 by March 2025 is looking improbable, and faith in our criminal-justice system understandably continues to erode.

“Only increased and sustained funding can stop the ongoing collapse of our criminal-justice system,” Emmerson concluded.

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