The scale of the backlog of court cases is highlighted today with figures showing that, in London alone, nearly a quarter of a million people are waiting for their cases to be heard.
The extent of the jam was revealed when Sadiq Khan, the city’s mayor, asked the government to build a “large-scale secure facility” to begin solving high-priority cases.
Data of The Metropolitan Police reveals that the number of victims and witnesses who must go to court currently stands at 227,000. Officers have informed the mayor’s crime and police office of at least two incidents in which victims have attempted suicide after being told their trial was delayed.
The details are revealed in a letter from Khan to Attorney General Robert Buckland asking for urgent help to alleviate the backlog, which is so severe that the mayor believes “justice is stagnant” in the capital.
He added: “Our already extended services in the capital are now at full capacity and can no longer provide support to any new victims entering the system.”
It follows last month’s warning from analysts that criminal justice in the UK could “stop working” in the next four years without reform amid forecasts that the backlog could skyrocket to nearly 200,000 by 2024.
The Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales has also seen a large increase in its number of cases, from around 100,000 in June 2019 to more than 170,000 a year later.
Although the Justice Ministry has promised a network of Nightingale courts for socially distancing trials to address the huge backlog, Khan said they must urgently be accelerated along with the construction of a new facility.
“There is a need for a facility with cells to hold the accused, adequate security measures to ensure the safety of all victims and witnesses, and a space large enough to hear a case from several accused also while maintaining the charges. social distancing measures, ”he writes.
Saying London was “disproportionately affected” by the delays, Khan said the emotional well-being of victims and witnesses should be carefully considered when canceling or postponing trials.
Details of recent cases of concern were sent to the mayor’s office for surveillance and crimes from the Met’s witness units, including a man accused of being a prolific pedophile whose alleged crimes spanned more than 40 years and was released. after his trial was delayed before this year.
The defendant was indicted in February and the trial is scheduled for July. When that hearing was canceled, several key witnesses withdrew. The victim of the alleged child abuse says she later saw the defendant released on bail in the company of young people. The victim sent photos to the police, but they said there was nothing they could do. The trial was scheduled for October, but has now been postponed to April 2021.
Another case involves a man who says he was violently assaulted by three men in May 2019, an unprovoked attack that was both homophobic and transphobic in nature.
The victim was initially given a court date the following summer, but was told that the hearing had been canceled the night before.
Several weeks later another date was given, but it was again canceled at the last minute. The reason given for both cancellations was “complications related to social distancing.”
The victim said: “This has been a terrible blow not only for me, but for all the people who work to support me. The inconsistency of communication and the failure of the responsible agency to take this case to trial has been difficult to bear. “
The data from the witness service unit counts all victims and witnesses, including “professional witnesses” such as the police, with the statistics related to the data from the “prior to the first hearing”, the beginning of the judicial process.
The Ministry of Justice was contacted for comment, but did not respond before the Observer went to press.
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