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Crown courts facing ‘longest backlog of cases on record’ due to budget cuts and pandemic, data shows

CROWN courts in England and Wales are facing the largest backlog of outstanding cases ever recorded due to budget cuts and the pandemic, new data revealed today.

There were 59,532 cases waiting to be dealt with by crown courts at the end of March 2021, an increase of 45 per cent on the first quarter of 2020, according to the Ministry of Justice.

This also marks a 4 per cent increase on the previous quarter, when the case number stood at 57,047.

Of cases awaiting trial, drug offences had the largest proportional increase (75 per cent) compared with the previous year, followed by sexual offences, which had a 67 per cent rise.

Although crown court activity is now close to returning to pre-Covid levels, the outstanding caseload is still increasing.

The data was released after the Lord Chief Justice suggested on Monday that reducing the size of trial juries would help to clear the backlog of crown court cases.

Lord Burnett of Maldon told the Daily Telegraph that the “deeply damaging” delays in the justice system were caused by years of budget cuts and have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Rape conviction figures have also been impacted, with the number of suspects convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales at the lowest level since records began.

The latest Crown Prosecution Service figures, for 2019-20, show that 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales last year, down from 1,925 the previous year.

This is despite reports to police of adult rape incidents almost doubling since 2015-16.

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy MP said: “The Conservatives are forcing victims of rape, domestic abuse and violent assault to wait months and years for justice if they get it at all.

“This is the direct result of the government’s decade of court closures, combined with its incompetent response to the pandemic.

“[On Wednesday] the Prime Minister apologised to rape victims. Now he must take urgent action to restore the justice system after his party has decimated it.”

The government has pledged to return to at least 2016 levels of rape prosecutions by the end of the current Parliament.

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