The number of legal aid cases concluded in crown courts has dropped significantly in the last three years, despite a rise in serious crime.
According to quarterly legal aid statistics, 22,000 advocate fee scheme cases were concluded in crown courts between January and March 2019. This figure is 10% lower compared to the same period last year and, pro rata, marks a 20% reduction in three years.
The fall in case numbers coincides with a rise in homicides, knife offences, theft offences and fraud offences, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics.
Chris Henley QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), said in his ‘Monday Message’: ‘Serious crime has been increasing year on year but the volumes of cases going through the courts have been falling off a cliff.
‘Wherever you look the public is being relentlessly let down by the atrocious financial squeeze on the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office.’
He added that the fall in the number of cases had led to a ‘savage cutting of court sitting days’ and a surge in ‘unrealistic listing’. He gave the example of one court centre where four listed floating trials (which are not allocated a specific court or judge) failed to find any courts to take them.
He also condemned the 'scourge of warned lists', citing one court centre which is giving three week windows for trials. A warned list consists of cases that are listed for trial to start on any day within a defined period, as opposed to a fixture where a case is due to start on a specific date.