Lewes Crown Court facing increasing backlog of cases

Lewes Crown Court is facing an increasing backlog of cases, figures reveal, as the wait for justice for hundreds of victims of serious crime continues.

Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 3:11 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 3:12 pm

Charities fear delays at courts across England and Wales could stop people reporting crime in future, while legal bodies fear they could even impact the outcome of a trial.

Ministry of Justice data shows there were 1,012 outstanding cases at Lewes Crown Court at the end of March.

That was a rise of 68% on the 602 at the same time last year.

Ministry of Justice data shows there were 1,012 outstanding cases at Lewes Crown Court at the end of March.

They included 208 cases relating to alleged violent attacks and 141 for sex offences.

Across England and Wales, 59,500 cases were waiting to be dealt with by crown courts at the end of March, an increase of 45% on the previous year.

The Ministry of Justice said the long delays were brought on by the impact of Covid-19 which led to a limited operation at criminal courts, particularly last year.

However, the Law Society of England and Wales, which represents solicitors, said the pandemic has only compounded decades of underfunding and court closures.

President Stephanie Boyce said the case delays made a "courts crisis" even worse and had the potential to impact not just victims' lives, but also the outcomes of cases.

She added: “Let’s not forget victims, waiting years for justice, and sometimes giving up on the system, which is a heavy blow for justice in this country.

“Memories fade, meaning witnesses cannot give such strong evidence, which may make the difference between conviction and acquittal."

Charity Victim Support said the longer waits had a damaging impact on victims, particularly those suffering trauma from serious offences.

Rachel Almeida, assistant director, said: "Long delays undermine confidence in the criminal justice system and can deter victims and survivors from engaging in future.

"All possible steps must be taken to address the court backlog and reduce these long waits for trial.”

Coronavirus restrictions meant trials could not be held in some court buildings, leading to the opening of 60 Nightingale courtrooms across England and Wales, some based in stadiums, town halls and theatres.

Hearings were also carried out through remote technology, with more than half done in this way between May and December last year.

At Lewes Crown Court, 1,350 cases were concluded between April last year and March this year, a fall from 1,711 the year before.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said since April this year, the backlog of outstanding cases at crown courts had started to fall, although the latest figures were unavailable at individual court level.

They said: "Dedicated staff and professionals kept justice moving during the pandemic and thanks to their efforts we are seeing positive results – outstanding cases in the crown court are beginning to drop.

“Major challenges remain which is why we are investing hundreds of millions to further increase capacity, deliver swifter justice and support victims.”