Herts PCC says justice system ‘on edge of crisis’ with two year crown court wait

Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner David Lloyd outside St Albans Crown Court.

Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner David Lloyd outside St Albans Crown Court. - Credit: Archant

Concerns have been raised that criminal justice is on the ‘edge of a crisis’ with up to a two-year court backlog at St Albans Crown Court.

Herts police and crime commissioner David Lloyd has written to the Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor calling for urgent action, as the issue becomes further exacerbated by the current COVID-19 situation.

Waiting times for cases to reach crown court are up to three-years in some parts of England and Wales, while in Hertfordshire St Albans Crown Court has a backlog of approximately two years.

On behalf of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, he warns the COVID-19 crisis has extended court waiting times, which could lead to less victims reporting crimes and lower conviction rates.

Those accused are also waiting years to clear their names, while serial offenders will be free to carry on harming communities before they face justice, he adds.

To address the issue Mr Lloyd is calling for a significant change of culture within the system and a devolution of sovereignty to Local Criminal Justice Boards to make plans, hold to account and solve problems.

Along with more use of video technology to speed up cases and setting up additional courts in buildings such as sports centres.

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Mr Lloyd said: “Until we get better data sharing from criminal justice agencies, such as HM Courts and Tribunals Service, we can’t see exactly how great this problem is.

“The average backlog today is two years, if matters are not addressed we will get to a point where the whole system grinds to a halt.

“I have seen figures of a three-year delay in Northumberland, and although the Lord Chancellor has contested that, those involved locally are saying that is the case, and I have no reason not to believe them. At St Albans’ Crown Court it is approximately two years.

“Broadly the aim of for those going into the criminal justice system, is that their case should be dealt with within six months. Both victims and their accused should be able to get justice in this time period so they can move on with their lives.

“We have a lot of younger adults involved in the criminal justice system, if they have to wait three years to potentially clear their names, the life chances available during that time may be lost forever.

“In addition, we have an incredibly low conviction rate for rape nationally, and we know many victims currently do not even report their attacks to police. If they know that it will be years, and even then, they may not get their day in court, that rate will fall even lower.”

Mr Lloyd is also concerned that the public will lose faith in reporting crimes to police if they feel the offender will not be successfully and swiftly prosecuted.

“We have ensured that all crimes are properly recorded, and we in Hertfordshire are satisfied that public confidence is such that they do report more crimes. But that won’t happen if they feel they are putting in a lot of effort for very little result.

“Our country is based on the rule of law and if confidence is lost in the criminal justice system then we will be a in a really bad place.

“These delays will also cause issues with witnesses when they take the stand, making it hard for them to remember what happened years before.

“Defence lawyers will start to say to tell their clients to plead not guilty so they can wait to see what happens.

“There are also those offences such as drug dealing and burglary, where those responsible may go on plying their trade while they are waiting to go to court.

On behalf of all PCC’s Mr Lloyd is calling on more data sharing to all those involved including HMCTS, police, CPS and local criminal justice boards.

“The chair of the local Criminal Justice Board should be able to hold to account those who administer justice in their area.

“We need more localism and local legislation to address issues on the ground. I see no reason why a court room could not be set up in a week, you just need a large room and to take account of security considerations.

“We must realise that we are in a crisis, and that we need to think outside the box to get through it.”