Victims of serious crimes are having to wait one and a half years to see their perpetrator brought to justice because of growing backlogs in cases, new figures show.
Ministry of Justice numbers show the delays have reached their highest for five years, with a 14 per cent increase in just a year to 555 days between an offence being committed and a verdict being reached in court.
The delays have increased despite fewer offenders being brought to justice compared with the previous peak of 576 days in 2016. Then, there were more than 30,000 defendants processed in three months by the courts, compared with only 25,000 in the first three months of this year.
The backlog has been largely fuelled by the closure of courts during the pandemic and social distancing restrictions that have reduced court capacity.
James Mulholland QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, told The Telegraph: “We need to return to a criminal justice system which provides consistency and which dispenses justice for all in a timely manner and with consideration for the many.
“This includes the vulnerable, who are impacted by it, rather than one which lurches uncertainly onwards with cuts and closures leading to interminable delays and a disregard for all engaged in the process.
“Justice for complainants, suspects, witnesses and the victims of crime cannot be written off as mere “downstream demand” in the cold numbers-speak of a profit and loss spread sheet. These are human beings with lives irrevocably harmed as justice is delayed.”
Dame Vera Baird QC, the victims’ commissioner, said the “unacceptable” delays had “severe” implications for victims and witnesses. “Delays prevent victims processing their trauma, as their lives are effectively put on hold,” she said.
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“Faced with such long waits, it seems inevitable that some victims and witnesses will decide to simply opt-out of the criminal justice process altogether, leaving them with no resolution and the public with the risk of a guilty criminal free to offend again. It’s clear that endemic delays represent a serious problem for all of us.
“There’s no denying that the court service has worked hard during the pandemic to get courts up and running despite many challenges. Recent announcements of unlimited court sitting days and continued investment in Nightingale Courts are to be welcomed. But the backlog of cases continues to grow.
“So many months on after the peak of the pandemic, this is of grave concern. We urgently need to see more victims getting to and through the courts.”