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The current backlog is 78% higher than at the end of 2019 and 11% higher than June 2021

NAO report reveals Crown Court backlog crisis

NAO report reveals Crown Court backlog crisis


Urgent reforms to the leadership and management needed to address Crown Court backlog

The National Audit Office (NAO) has released a report detailing the severe backlog in Crown Court cases, with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) failing to meet its target to reduce the caseload to 53,000 by March 2025. As of December 2023, the backlog stands at a record 67,573 cases, with the number projected to remain around 64,000 by the target date.

Key findings of the NAO report:

  • Record High Backlog: The current backlog is 78% higher than at the end of 2019 and 11% higher than June 2021.
  • Prolonged Delays: Over a quarter of cases (27%) have been waiting for a year or more, exacerbating the distress for victims, witnesses, and defendants. The number of cases waiting for two years or more has more than tripled since June 2021.
  • Impact on Justice: Delays increase the risk of cases collapsing as victims and witnesses may withdraw or their recollection of events may fade, impacting the mental wellbeing of those involved.
  • Prison Capacity Crisis: The MoJ identifies pressure on prison capacity, now at its highest in 50 years, as a significant obstacle to reducing the backlog.
  • Underfunding and Resource Shortages: Chronic underfunding has led to a shortage of judges and lawyers, dilapidated court facilities, and a significant decline in criminal defence lawyers due to reduced legal aid fees and poor working conditions.

The Law Society of England and Wales echoed the report's findings, criticising the UK government's shortsighted approach to justice. President Nick Emmerson emphasised the dire consequences of delayed cases on the mental health and lives of those involved, calling for urgent and sustained investment across the criminal justice system.

Nick Emmerson highlighted the poor handling of Operation Early Dawn and the need for better engagement with legal professionals when introducing emergency measures. He stressed that solutions to the backlog would only be found through cooperation and communication with all stakeholders in the criminal justice system.

The NAO report underlines the urgent need for comprehensive reforms and increased funding to restore timely access to justice and alleviate the prolonged suffering caused by the Crown Court backlog.

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