The number of people dealt with by the criminal justice system fell 15% in the year ending June 2020, with a 50% drop in the final quarter– but the government insists the situation has ‘vastly improved’ since the spring.

In the first official statistical report to contain a full quarter affected by the pandemic, figures show that 1.34 million individuals were formally dealt with by the criminal justice system between July 2019 and June 2020, down from around 1.57 million the previous year. The number fell by 49% in the last quarter.

Both prosecutions and convictions fell by 18% compared with a year earlier, and there were 59% fewer convictions in March to June 2020 than January to March 2020.

According the report, the number of defendants prosecuted at all courts has fallen steadily year-on-year since 2016.

Responding to the figures, the Ministry of Justice said: ‘The situation has vastly improved since the period these figures cover – magistrates’ backlogs are now falling and the number of cases being resolved by the Crown Courts has trebled since April.’

‘We’re spending £80m on a range of measures to further drive this recovery, including hiring 1,600 additional staff and opening more Nightingale courts to boost capacity.’

According to the MoJ 16 Nightingale courts are now operating, providing 29 extra courtrooms of which 10 are used for non custodial jury trials.

However the criminal bar said a minimum of 60 extra courtrooms are required for criminal work. James Mulholland QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said: ‘What is needed is more space. Broadening the workload across as many buildings as possible reduces numbers in any particular location. The task is not an onerous one. There has never been a time in recent history when so many buildings have stood empty for such a lengthy period.’