Snaresbrook Crown Court facing huge backlog after cases drop by almost 70% during lockdown

PUBLISHED: 15:00 06 October 2020

Snaresbrook Crown Court faces huge backlog after cases drop by almost 70% during lockdown. Picture: PA/John Stillwell

Snaresbrook Crown Court faces huge backlog after cases drop by almost 70% during lockdown. Picture: PA/John Stillwell

PA Archive/PA Images

A huge backlog of criminal cases faces Snaresbrook Crown Court as a result of much-reduced service during lockdown.

Ministry of Justice figures show 234 cases were concluded at the court between April and June, down 68 per cent on the 733 cases dealt with in the previous three months.

This was also much lower than the 908 cases concluded during the same April — June period last year.

The number of outstanding cases grew by 19 pc, from 2,133 at the end of March to 2,547 at the end of June.

This backlog is merely symptomatic of a wider problem caused by “years of underfunding and cuts”, according to the Law Society of England and Wales: “Justice is being delayed for victims, witnesses and defendants, who have proceedings hanging over them for months, if not years, with some trials now being listed for 2022,” said President Simon Davis.

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The chair of the Bar Council, Amanda Pinto QC, added: “We’ve seen what lack of funding for law and order achieves — rising crime, low detection rates, long delays to cases with many collapsing before they get anywhere near a court, victims of crime denied justice, and all because government after government has failed to invest in justice.

“The need for long term, significant investment is crucial across the entire justice system if it is to serve its purpose.”

Dame Vera Baird, Victims’ Commissioner, believes the malaise means increasing numbers are “giving up on justice and walking away”.

Ms Baird added that pressure to resolve cases quickly may lead to defendants taking plea deals for lesser crimes or courts failing to provide special measures such as screens or video links for evidence giving, leaving victims frustrated and disenfranchised: “This loss of public confidence in our justice system is serious and will have long term consequences in getting the public to engage with the justice process.”

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said its response to the pandemic had been “world-leading”, and that the crown court backlog had started to reduce since June.

It is also opening eight more Nightingale Courts, recruiting more than 1,000 new staff and rolling out Covid-secure plexiglass screens to boost capacity.

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