Court case backlog ‘corrosive’ as victims wait for justice – top prosecutor

Delays in cases coming to court are “corrosive” as they force victims to wait for justice, the director of public prosecutions has warned.

Max Hill said more remote hearings should take place to tackle the growing backlog of criminal cases but added that this was only “part of the answer” to the problem.

Courts in England and Wales are grappling with a waiting list of around half a million cases.

Delays were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic when courts were forced to shut during lockdown.

Speaking to an online audience on Friday, Mr Hill said: “We’ve got to get over the backlog as quickly as we can.”

It comes amid reports courts are currently listing trials for 2023.

Boris Johnson holds roundtable on crime
Boris Johnson holds roundtable on crime

During the discussion with BBC journalist Razia Iqbal for the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, Mr Hill said: “What comes with any backlog is the necessity for the participants in cases to wait, and that can be very corrosive, particularly when you’ve got a vulnerable victim of an appalling crime who is made to wait because they can tell their truth in court.

“We should all be working together to try and reduce that to a minimum.”

There were 101,000 live Crown Prosecution Service cases in February. But by the start of this month the figure had jumped by 75% to almost 180,000, Mr Hill said.

“That’s inevitable when the courts, try as they might, were simply unable to operate as normal when we were all locked down.

“That’s a lot to deal with.

“That’s not something you can get rid of in weeks, it is something that is going to continue in the system for a considerable period of time.”

The Government has set up 10 Nightingale courts to help keep the system moving. However, just three deal with criminal cases while the others are being used for civil and family hearings.

Mr Hill instead hailed the 30,000 hearings conducted remotely since the lockdown, adding: “That I believe is part of the answer and that should be part of the answer long term.

“We’ve now seen the technology and I think we need to grasp that and bed that into the system.

“The new normal should include looking at every occasion where we can properly and in the interests of justice, and that includes open justice, conduct hearings across a screen.

“That will drive down on backlog.

“It’s not a sole solution but it will help to drive it down.”