Victims of crime can wait for years for justice after Dominic Raab admitted he did not know how long it will take to get through the backlog of the most serious trials.
In an interview with Sky News, the attorney general said he “could not say with precision” when the backlog of more than 60,000 kroner lawsuits in England and Wales will return to the level it was at before the pandemic.
He suggested that it might take up to a year before it starts to fall, and did not rule out that it might take seven or eight years to clear it.
Raab admitted that victims of crime, especially rape and sexual crimes, have suffered “the extra anguish and ordeal of this wait in limbo” and said it was his top priority to ensure faster justice.
He also rejected the idea – put forward by former Conservative secretaries – that short sentences should be replaced by community service. He described this approach as “just letting people go” and said it was not a route he would go down as it “would not instill public confidence”.
He also said it was “inconceivable” that the prison population, currently around 81,000 in England and Wales, would fall on his guard unless crime fell and that he would focus on using offenders’ time for job training.
Raab will today announce the opening of a new “super courtroom” of £ 2.7 million. in Loughborough, the second of its kind in the UK, where up to 12 defendants can sit in the dock. Another in Manchester opened last month.
Alleged crimes, including gang violence and drug trafficking at national borders, account for about one-fifth of the backlog because the rules on social distancing have prevented them from continuing.
A murder case with nine defendants begins in the new courtroom this week. Raab said using those facilities instead of more courtrooms for hearings would free up space for an additional 250 other cases a year.
The backlog of crown law is 60,292 according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice from the end of June compared to 41,045 in March 2020, when the pandemic began – an increase of 48%.
Despite an increase of £ 1bn. in the funding for legal arrears over the next three years, secured in last month’s expenditure statement, it is expected that this will only reduce the backlog to 53,000 in 2024.
Raab said: “We are beginning to see the backlog stabilize. I can not tell you with any precision exactly when we will return to pre-pandemic levels. But I am convinced that within six to 12 months at. at the latest we will start to get the backlog down.
“These are the 15% of the most complex cases that go through the Crown Court, which due to the pandemic and the rules on social distancing that apply to things like jury trials, could not run safely and responsibly in the way we would in normal times. “
Asked twice if it could take seven or eight years to reduce the backlog, he said: “We want to go as fast as we can. We have to use technology; we have 13,000 cases every week that use a or other video technology. “
Sky News visited Peterborough Cathedral, one of dozens of nightingale courtrooms that opened during the pandemic – 32 of which are still working to help with the backlog. The court, which can handle family cases and criminal cases that do not require security, does not sit full-time.
COVID saw the closure of juries between March and May last year, but the justice system has also suffered from several years of spending cuts and has lost a quarter of its budget since 2010.
Raab said he did not accept that there was a lack of funding for lawyers and judges, which the Criminal Bar Association said had exacerbated “endless waits for justice”.
He said: “I have pretty much secured a record increase in funding for justice in the spending review for the next three years and I look forward to delivering.”
Sky News spoke to “Lisa”, who does not want to be identified, about reporting a sexual crime she suffered as a child – only to wait three years for the perpetrator to be jailed, with three trial dates and various other hearings canceled.
At one point, she drove 100 miles to attend a court hearing that was canceled due to COVID – and had to relive her testimony on video before each court hearing.
“I felt like I was serving a prison sentence,” she said. “I have not been able to do my job for long periods of time. It has ruined my personal life.”
She added: “I wanted to move home; it did not happen. I planned to adopt; it did not happen. Everything has been put on hold because I did not want this man to do what he did to me for someone else. . “
Raab said: “It is not only the delay – and justice delayed, justice is denied – but that process is very traumatic.
“That’s why we’re keeping the backlog down. It’s my first priority to get the backlog down to do justice to the victims.”