Criminal justice system in reverse
Yesterday’s (28 September, 2023) Criminal Court statistics covering the state of play to the 30th June this year make from grim reading. The Government has made little progress in reducing the court backlogs since the end of the pandemic but Crown Court backlogs had been reducing very slowly since last September. However, that figure reversed markedly from April to June this year, with the outstanding caseload jumping by 4% to 64,709.
This is not only dismal news for victims and defendants who must wait even longer for justice but also for the prison system which is already creaking at the seams, with its population having increased by over 5,000 people this year with every prison full to bursting and many more sharing cells meant for one person.
It also means very little respite for the increasing numbers of people stuck on remand, many of them for many more months than the legal limit.
Following the initial phased reintroduction of jury trials after the initial lockdowns, disposals (the number of cases completed) have gradually increased from an all time low in Q2 2020 and returned to pre-COVID levels in Q1 2022. However, the Criminal Bar Association industrial action starting in April 2022 contributed to disposals falling again in Q2 and Q3 2022. That industrial action was resolved in October 20227 following the extension of fee rises and subsequently disposals increased again.
- There were 26,403 case receipts into the Crown Court in Q2 2023. This is up 6% on the previous quarter and 9% above levels seen in Q2 2022.
- There were 23,581 case disposals at the Crown Court in Q2 2023. This is a 6% decrease on the previous quarter but 4% above levels seen in the previous year and 18% above levels at the height of the Criminal Bar Association action.
- There were 64,709 outstanding cases at the end of June 2023. This is up 4% on the previous quarter (62,212 cases) and 9% above the previous year (59,299 cases).
The statisticians fail to mention this fact, but to the best of my knowledge this is the highest level of outstanding cases ever recorded.
One piece of slightly good news was hidden within the figures. The average (median) time from offence to completion at the Crown Court decreased slightly on the previous quarter (from 398 to 387 days) but remains well above pre-COVID levels (254 days in Q1 2020).
You can see the figures since January 2020 in my interactive chart below.
Unusually (and the reasons for this are not clear) the outstanding caseload at the magistrates’ courts increased as disposals volumes fell below case receipts (the term for new cases). Receipts remained stable with the previous quarter while disposals fell. Disposals fell below receipts and as a result the outstanding caseload increased by 2% on the previous quarter.
Receipts and disposals have both tended to rise from the low point of the first lockdown in Spring 2020. The levels remain a little below those seen prior to the pandemic.
- Receipts into the magistrates’ courts increased by 14% compared to the previous year and remained similar to those seen in the previous quarter.
- Disposals at the magistrates’ court increased by 7% on the previous year but fell back on the previous quarter (down 4%) – this was largely due to a 6% reduction in summary motoring disposals.
- At the end of June 2023 there were 345,285 outstanding cases at the magistrates’ courts. This represents a 2% increase on the previous quarter (337,104) and a 18% decrease on the high point seen in Q2 2020 (422,156).