The Victims' Commissioner reacts to the latest criminal court statistics, which show "enormous" court backlogs are leaving victims waiting on average 436 days for their case to come to court.
The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said:
Enormous court backlogs mean victims of crime are facing years of unacceptable delay in their quest for justice. Court delays exert tremendous tolls on victims, with their lives effectively put on hold as they await their time in court. These delays will severely test victims’ resolve and we cannot be surprised if increasing numbers decide they are unable to stay the course. We must ensure victims have the right support, to persevere and to see justice.
Criminal court statistics:
The latest court statistics suggest there are grounds for very cautious optimism. The backlog does seem to be reducing – albeit slowly. The Ministry of Justice forecasts that there will still be a backlog of 48,000 outstanding cases by November 2024 and these figures broadly fit that trajectory. That remains some distance away from the pre-pandemic peak of 38,000, which itself represented a desperate situation. We need to be far more ambitious and aspirational for victims and our courts system.
These backlogs have very real impacts on victims and translate into average waits of almost 15 months (436 days) from the time of the offence to the completion of the trial. This is up by over a third (35%) since December 2020 and by over two thirds (68%) when compared to pre-pandemic figures. And while court backlogs may decrease, it doesn’t necessarily follow that delays in the court system will reduce. Complex cases can take years to reach court: 25% of all outstanding Crown Court cases have now been on the books for more than a year. This is up 10% just on the previous quarter, up 39% compared to December 2020, and represents a six-fold increase since before the pandemic. It’s clear that victims will continue to face lengthy delays even as the backlog reduces.
More so than any other crime type, rape victims are confronted with endless, endemic delay. The average wait from the time of the offence to the completion of the court case is now an astounding 839 days – or 2 years and 4 months. This is appalling and compounds an already dire situation for rape victims. This represents an increase of 45% since December 2020 alone and now one quarter (23%) of rape cases are outstanding for than a year – a six-fold increase when compared to pre-pandemic figures. With such high victim attrition in rape cases, we can’t discount the fact that these numbers might even be masking a much worse situation.
This requires drastic and urgent action. The Deputy Prime Minister recently committed to expanding the use of pre-recorded evidence and cross-examination (Section 28) in all rape cases. Importantly, these recordings can be completed in months, not years. And once complete, the complainant can move on with their lives, safe in the knowledge that the case can continue without them. This facility is in the process of being rolled out to 12 courts and it’s good to see progress. But we will need to massively up the ante and complete a rapid rollout if we are to spare yet more victims from years of crushing delay.
Criminal court statistics quarterly: October to December 2021 (GOV.UK)
Outstanding cases in the Crown Court have fallen
- 58,818 cases outstanding end Dec 2021
- Down 2% on the previous quarter (1,231 cases from 60,049)
- The number of outstanding cases has increased 54% over the last 2 years from 38,271 (Q4 2019)
- The MoJ forecasts that by Nov 2024 there would be between 48,000 – 52,000
- At a reduction of 2% per quarter (the current rate) by September 2024 there would be approximately 47,000 cases outstanding. If they maintain this current loss they would meet their (low) projected outstanding case figures.
- The average (median) time from offence to completion for all cases is 436 days.
- This is slightly down (11 days on the quarter) 2%
- but it up 35% on the year (from 322 days ) and up 68% since Q4 2019 (259 days)
- Number of cases outstanding for more than 1 year
- A quarter of all cases have been outstanding at the Crown Courts for more than 1 year, 14,612 cases 25% of all outstanding cases
- This is up by 10% from the previous quarter (from 13,258 cases)
- And an increase of 39% over the year (from Q420, 10,494 cases) and a 5 fold increase from Q4 2019 when only 2,435 cases had been outstanding for more than 1 year
- Outstanding Rape Cases in the Crown Court
- There are 1,352 outstanding rape cases down 0.5% from the previous quarter (1,359 cases)
- The number of outstanding cases has increased 19% over the last years from (up 218 cases from 1,134 Q4 2020) and an increase of 117% on the last 2 years, up 728 cases from 624 cases in Q4 2019)
- The average (median) time from offence to completion for Rape cases is 839 days.
- This is down 6% on the previous quarter, down 56 days on the quarter
- but it up 45% on the year (from 580 days ) and up 50% since Q4 2019 (from 561 days)
- Number of cases outstanding for more than 1 year
- A quarter of rape cases have been outstanding at the Crown Courts for more than 1 year, 306 cases 23% of all outstanding rape cases
- This is up by 5% from the previous quarter (from 292 cases)
- And an increase of 15% over the year (from Q4 20, 266 cases) and a 5 fold increase from Q4 2019 when only 52 cases had been outstanding for more than 1 year