The size of the court backlog is highlighted today with figures showing that, in London alone, nearly a quarter of a million people are waiting for their case to be heard.
The size of the logjam was revealed as city mayor Sadiq Khan called on the government to build a “large-scale secure facility” to begin clearing high-priority cases.
Metropolitan police data reveals that the number of victims and witnesses to attend court is currently 227,000. Officials have told the mayor’s police and crime office about at least two incidents in which victims have attempted suicide after being told their trial is being delayed.
The details are revealed in a letter from Khan to justice secretary Robert Buckland calling for urgent assistance to alleviate the backlog, which is so severe the mayor believes “justice is standing still” in the capital.
He added: “Our already stretched services in the capital are now full and they can no longer provide the support to any new victim entering the system.”
It follows a warning last month by analysts that criminal justice in the UK could “stop operating” in the next four years without revision amid forecasts that the backlog of rocket cases could reach nearly 200,000 by 2024 .
The Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales has also seen a large increase in its caseload, from around 100,000 in June 2019 to more than 170,000 a year later.
While the Ministry of Justice has promised a network of Nightingale courts for social distance trials to tackle the huge backlog, Khan said they need urgent acceleration along with the construction of a new facility.
“There is a need for a cell-based facility for the custody of defendants, adequate security measures to ensure the safety of all victims and witnesses, and a large enough place to hear a multi-defendant case also when conducting social isolation measures,” he writes.
Commenting that the backlog had “disproportionately affected London”, Khan said that the emotional well-being of victims and witnesses needed to be carefully considered when canceling or delaying trials.
Details of recent cases of concern have been forwarded to the mayor’s office for policing and crime from the Met’s witness care units, including a man accused of being a prolific pedophile whose alleged crimes are spans more than 40 years being released after his case was adjourned earlier a year.
The defendant was charged in February, with the case scheduled for July. When that hearing was canceled, several key witnesses withdrew. A victim of the alleged childhood abuse says he later saw the defendant out on bail with young people. The victim sent photos to the police but was told there was nothing they could do. The case was then scheduled for October but has now been deferred to April 2021.
Another case involves a man who reportedly assaulted three men violently in May 2019, a chaotic attack that was homophobic and transphobic in nature.
The victim was initially given a court date the following summer, but was told the hearing had been canceled the night before.
Another date was given several weeks later but was canceled again at the last moment. The reason for the two cancellations was “complications of social isolation.”
The victim said: “This has been a devastating blow, not only to myself but to all those individuals working to support me. The inconsistency of communication and failure of the responsible agency to bring this case to trial has been difficult to bring. ”
Witness care unit data counts all victims and witnesses, including “professional witnesses” such as the police, with statistics relating to “pre-hearing hearing” data, the start of the judicial process.
A spokesman for HM Courts and Tribunals Service said: “Our response to the pandemic has been world-leading. We have introduced new technology, introduced Saturday sitting hours, invested an additional £ 40m in victim services and already opened 16 Nightingale courts, including two in London, to keep the justice system going.
“As a result unresolved cases in the magistrates have reduced and the number resolved at the crown court has tripled since April.”