Police taking longer to haul criminal suspects before the courts in Preston

Police take more than five months longer to charge suspects in Preston than they did eight years ago.

Friday, 16th August 2019, 3:17 pm
The average time between an offence having taken place and charges being brought in Preston was 334 days

Experts have warned that cuts to criminal justice have resulted in a "crumbling" system, leaving victims and defendants in limbo for months or years.

According to the latest Ministry of Justice figures, 435 trials were wrapped up at Preston Crown Court during the first three months of this year.

In these, the average time between the offence having taken place and charges being brought was 334 days.

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This was an increase of 92 per cent compared to 2011, when it took 174 days to bring charges.

The figures refer to the average time after an offence was committed, meaning trials for historical offences could distort the figures.

A 2015 report from the charity Victim Support warned that long waits for cases to reach trial could cause stress and anxiety, and could also diminish the quality of evidence given by witnesses.

Despite this, the average wait for charges across England and Wales has increased by 59 per cent over the last eight years, climbing from 203 to 323 days.

Police officers blame cuts to their ranks – forces in England and Wales have lost almost 22,000 officers since 2010 – and reductions in funding for the delays.

John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: "At all stages of the investigative process, there are fewer officers dealing with escalating demands.

"It is hardly surprising then that investigations are taking longer to complete as officers juggle competing demands, while trying their very best to care for their victims and bring offenders to justice."

Deputy Chief Constable Sara Glen from the National Police Chiefs' Council added that officers had seen an increase in complex investigations, as well as more digital evidence that has to be examined before cases are passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.

However, cases are now taking less time to be concluded once they have reached Preston Crown Court.

In the three months to March 2011, the time between a suspect being charged and a case being completed in court was 202 days.

By 2019, this had fallen to 171 days.

This bucked the national trend, which saw average waits in court climbing from 197 to 212 days – an increase of eight per cent.

Stephanie Boyce, vice president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said cuts to the criminal justice system risked undermining the UK's reputation for upholding the rule of law.

“If you want justice you have to invest – decades of cuts to this fundamental part of our country’s infrastructure mean the whole system is crumbling," she said.

“Defendants are increasingly released under investigation (RUI) instead of police bail. This can kick cases into the long grass as RUI places no time limits on investigations. This can leave both victims and alleged perpetrators in limbo for months, even years."

A spokeswoman for HM Courts and Tribunals Service said: “We are working hard to reduce the time it takes for cases to go through the courts and waiting times are at their lowest in four years, despite an increasingly complex caseload including more historical offences.

“We have invested in new technology which is speeding-up the process, and the number of outstanding Crown Court cases is at its lowest rate in nearly 20 years.”