The Met Commissioner has revealed that the proportion of not guilty pleas has risen, with defendants hoping to delay trials or even have them dropped. Sir Mark Rowley suggested that defendants who would have previously pleaded guilty are taking a chance in the hope that the state of the justice system will work to their advantage. Rowley suggested 80% of those charged with an offence have previously entered guilty pleas but this figure has plummeted to as low as 20%, though members of the criminal bar have challenged these statistics.
According to HM Courts & Tribunals Service there are approximately 60,000 cases on the Crown Court backlog as of August 2022. There is mounting pressure to address the backlog attributed to funding cuts and industrial action combined with the pandemic. During a meeting with Met Officers, Sir Mark warned ‘I’ve heard that because cases are backing up in the system, defence lawyers are persuading more of their clients to plead not guilty, which is adding to backlogs.’
Criminal barristers have reported that trials are being listed for late 2024, increasing the risk of complainants and witnesses refusing to co-operate. Campaigners have warned that this shift is likely to impact complainants of sexual offences most, with such cases more likely to be dropped before trial than any other offence.
Ex-Victim’s Commissioner Vera Baird KC stated:
“Defendants plead [not guilty] hoping the victim withdraws or [the Crown Prosecution Service] drop the case in the 2/3 years wait for trial. They can’t be wrongly kept in custody, but some will be serial offenders. The Court backlog is a risk to public safety.”
Kirsty Brimelow KC, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, has highlighted that whilst the criminal justice system remains ‘chronically underfunded’ the backlog will take years to clear. A spokesperson for the Criminal Bar Association rejected Rowley’s claim, stating ‘criminal barrister’s advise their clients based on all the evidence before them.’
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