Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectors of policing, prisons, probations and prosecutions expressed “grave concerns” about the long-term impact of COVID-19 related court backlogs in a report published Tuesday.
The joint report highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the criminal justice system in England and Wales and the long-term risks of the pandemic, with significant failings of the justice system being “intensified” by COVID-19.
The inspectorates say it is the “significant backlog of cases which constitutes the greatest threat to the proper operation of the criminal justice system.” The report states that court closures from late March to mid-May 2020 (and in some cases, longer) led to significant increases in backlogs. Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell stated “Crown Courts deal with the most serious cases, so this backlog concerns us all. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant severe delays and numerous cancellations throughout 2020, and this has had a negative impact on everyone involved.” In December 13 2020, the number of ongoing cased in Crown Courts was 44 percent higher than in February of the same year. The report notes the concerns of police officers that due to these significant delays, victims will become less willing to support cases.
Due to the impact of backlogs on the criminal justice system, the report highlights the need to take ‘urgent and significant action to reduce and eliminate what were already chronic backlogs in cases’.
The chief inspectors are to give evidence to the House of Commons’ justice committee on Tuesday.