One in four Crown Court cases was now waiting for a year or more before coming to court, according to a damning report by four HM Chief Inspectors published today. The Chief Inspectors of Police, CPS, Probation and Prisons, in a joint report, say that none of the risks identified in their 2021 ‘state of the nation’ joint report had been ‘mitigated in their entirety’ and claim ‘recovery remains elusive’. ‘The system is getting by because of an artificially supressed level of activity and reduced performance management and quality expectations – which cannot go on,’ the repot states.
According to the inspectors, the number of cases waiting longer than a year has increased by more than 340% since March 2020 and, by the end of December 2021, 25% of cases had been waiting for a year or more to come to court. When Crown Court trials get under way, the average that a case has been outstanding is 282 days. The latest CPS figures reveal a Crown Court caseload 54% higher than its pre-pandemic caseload with ‘trial effectiveness’ rates not as good as before the pandemic leading to more cases being adjourned.
The inspectors noted that the pressures on the justice system had to be seen in the context of increasing demand. In the year ending September 2021, the overall crime rate increased by 14% compared with two years previously fuelled by a significant increase in fraud and computer misuse cases but also the highest number of rapes and sexual offences ever recorded in a single 12-month period. Whilst ‘good progress’ had been made towards the government’s ambition to recruit 20,000 new police officers by March 2023, the report predicted this would ‘do little to address the lack of experienced detectives and digital forensic specialists that are much needed today’. ‘Workloads remain high, and the thin blue line stretched,’ they added.
Recovery in prisons had been ‘slow and inconsistent’, according to inspectors. Many prisoners were left ‘frustrated as their life remains unchanged while restrictions in the community have been lifted’. ‘Apart from the small proportion in work, for many prisoners, spending 22.5 hours a day locked in their cell is not unusual, nor is having to choose between completing basic domestic tasks or exercising.’ Almost half of prisoners (49%) said that they spent fewer than two hours out of their cell on a typical weekday and more than two-thirds (67%) at weekends.This compares to 19% and 26% respectively in 2019/20.