Lancashire's outstanding criminal court cases stand at more than 6,000

New figures show there were still 6,079 ongoing court cases that haven't been finalised in Lancashire's courts at the end of December.

Tuesday, 30th March 2021, 10:12 am

Concerns at the huge backlog of cases in criminal courts were triggered last year as judges were forced to set criminal trial dates as far ahead as 2022.

The latest figures from the Government revealed there were 4,226 outstanding cases in the area's magistrates courts in the quarter from October to the end of December. compared to 4,707 outstanding cases at the end of September, in the Lancashire Local Criminal Justice Board (LCJB) area.

At the Crown Courts there were 1,853 cases outstanding by the end of December compared to 1,587 the previous quarter.

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The courts are still suffering a backlog

The HM Courts & Tribunals Service data shows of those, 398 involve violence, 287 involve sex offences and 365 relate to drug crime.

While there are always a number of outstanding court cases at any given time, the criminal justice system was already suffering significant delays to court proceedings before the Covid pandemic hit.

Some victims of crime currently waiting as long as three years to see justice done as the length of time it takes to bring a criminal to justice has soared.

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There are many cogs to the criminal justice system because it involves many different agencies - so a problem within one area leads to a knock on effect in another.

A combination of factors are being blamed, such as chronic underfunding and cuts across the system, and problems dealing with the disclosure of digital evidence like phones or computer data.

In addition, changes to police bail rules, which place a 28-day time limit on the length of time a suspect can be on bail for, have led to a heavier use of postal requisitions - summons - to attend court instead of charging offenders.

It means releasing suspects 'under investigation' is now routine practice and there are frequently delays in deciding whether to charge suspects.

Some judges in recent cases have demanded explanations from the police for such delays.

In a recent case at Preston Crown Court a drug offender who has 12 convictions for 32 offences, was released from prison shortly before committing other offences.

His arrest was in June 2019 but it did not proceed to court until April 2020, almost two years later despite him making admissions.

Imposing 10 months in jail - reduced due to the significant delay - Judge Simon Newell said: "That has nothing to do with the pandemic.

"That shows the criminal justice system running from the police to the CPS to the court was not running efficiently and effectively pre pandemic.

" I now have to do some justice to offences that are now two and half years old."

The problems are compounded by additional challenges posed by the pandemic, from delays caused by defendants, jurors or legal staff having to isolate, and the need for more space to abide by social distancing at court which has meant a reduction in the courts' capacity to hold hearings.

As a current example, Preston Crown Court, which has nine criminal courtrooms, will have to use three of them to facilitate an upcoming trial.

A new Nightingale Court has opened at Ashton Hall in Lancaster town hall to help ease some of the burden, but with current vacancies for judges and others due to retire, there is no quick fix.

Statisticians from the Office of National Statistics said: the report "shows the continued impact of COVID-19 on the criminal courts" and added: "Following the limited operation of the criminal courts and the gradual reintroduction of jury trials during the report period, the figures published today show the continued recovery in the system.

"This can be more clearly seen at the magistrates’ courts, where disposals remained above receipts and the outstanding caseload has consistently fallen."

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