The Crown Courts are currently experiencing the worst backlogs ever seen with more than 5,800 victims of serious violent and sexual crime stuck in the system awaiting justice for over a year. According to the latest figures as reported in the Observer, the overall number of cases awaiting trial in the Crown Courts has increased nearly 50%, from 39,000 pre-pandemic to nearly 60,000. Before the pandemic the backlog began increasing, largely owing to cuts to the legal aid budget, which has fallen 43% in real terms since 2004-2005.
It was reported that there are now 5,849 cases of violent and sexual crime waiting over a year for trial, contrasted to 755 cases previously. More than a thousand of these victims have been waiting over two years.
Continuous cuts to legal aid have accelerated the exodus of lawyers leaving publicly funded criminal work, with the Secret Barrister describing the current reality where ‘juniour colleagues are struggling to make minimum wage – an average income of £12,200 a year – and the toll of working 80 hour weeks’.
Earlier this year criminal barristers across England and Wales voted in favour of strike action, together enforcing a policy of ‘no returns’ – see here. Jo Siddhu QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), told the Guardian: ‘The evidence from the courts does not support the fantasy being fed to the public by ministers that delays are beginning to reduce. Each week, dozens of trials, including those for rape and other serious sexual offences, are being postponed at the last moment.’