The Law Society of England and Wales has warned that trust in the criminal justice system is “at risk”, with victims of even the most serious crimes facing long waits for their case to come to court.
The latest figures came ahead of this week’s vote by criminal lawyers across the country on whether to end the indefinite strike – launched over questions about legal aid fees and terms – following a government wage offer.
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Department of Justice data shows there were 345 cases pending at Portsmouth Crown Court at the end of June.
That was up from 308 at the end of March, but down from 440 at the same time in 2021.
The number of unfinished cases is 31% higher than it was before the coronavirus pandemic – in June 2019 there were 263 cases pending before the court.
Of the pending cases at the end of June, 96 (28%) involved alleged violent attacks and 55 (16%) involved sexual offences, including 13 alleged rapes.
In England and Wales, 59,700 cases were still unconcluded at the end of June, an increase of 2% from March and an increase of almost three quarters from June 2019, when 34,500 were pending .
Diana Fawcett, chief executive of the charity Victim Support, said: ‘The long waits for trial are causing immense stress and misery for victims. Unfortunately, court wait times are only part of the problem – many people have already waited years to report the crime to the police to have their case taken to court.
“This is a particular problem for victims of sexual violence – our social workers support victims who have been waiting for more than five years for their case to be heard.”
Stephanie Boyce, President of the Law Society, said: “The criminal justice system has been devastated by years of underfunding and cuts and there are not enough judges, lawyers and lawyers to cover all cases. Trust in the system is in jeopardy and a breakdown of the system would embolden criminals.
Criminal lawyers in England and Wales have been involved in an ongoing walkout after their row with the government over escalating charges.
Members of the Criminal Bar Association will decide whether to accept a 15% fee increase for new and existing cases, with the decision expected on Monday, October 10.
Mark Fenhalls KC, chairman of the Bar Council, said the government should commit to a justice system funding scheme which would see every serious case in Crown Court offered a trial date within six months.
A Department of Justice spokesperson said: ‘Restoring the speedy access to justice that victims deserve is our top priority and we are spending almost half a billion pounds to reduce waiting times, as well than to increase funding for victim support to £460million over the next three years. .
‘In addition to this, the government has rolled out a range of measures – including unlimited sitting days, Nightingale courts and increased sentencing powers for magistrates – which have so far reduced the Crown Court backlog by more than 2,000 from its pandemic-induced peak and seen magistrate cases return to pre-pandemic levels.