The government is unlikely to bring down the Crown court backlog to its stated ambition of 53,000 by March 2025 after newly released figures show it has reached a record high.

Data published by the Ministry of Justice today shows the backlog reached 67,573 between October and December 2023, up from 62,628 on the same quarter in 2022. The backlog has been steadily climbing during 2023. The number of outstanding cases open for over a year continued to rise and represented 28% of the outstanding caseload.

Law Society president Nick Emmerson said: ‘Decades of underfunding and cuts have left us with a justice system which is failing victims and defendants, who are having to wait far too long to access justice, with thousands of cases outstanding for more than two years.

‘The courtrooms themselves are crumbling and adding to the delays. There aren’t enough judges and lawyers to cover the cases. Pay and conditions to work in the system are unattractive and court staff are undermanned and under pressure. Eligible people can’t access legal aid because changes to the means test have been delayed. Prisons are overcrowded with inmates being released early to free up space.’

Victims’ commissioner Baroness Newlove said: ‘Previously, I was given to understand the backlog was as a result of a surge in referrals by police and prosecutors. However, the statistics show the volume of new cases is now down 4% and yet the backlog continues to climb. Disposals (completed cases) are also down 1% over the same period. This suggests deeper systemic issues.’

To reduce the backlog, Criminal Bar Association chair Tana Adkin KC said the government must invest in more legal professionals required to deliver fair trials. 

‘Doing nothing to increase rape and serious sexual offence fees is not an option unless we want to accept that rape and serious sexual offence trials will continue to be delayed for years, repeatedly postponed on the day because there is no barrister to prosecute or defend,' Adkin said. 'The human cost for victims of these crimes as well as innocent defendants is beyond financial measure.’


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