The Crown court backlog has started to fall for the first time since the pandemic began, after swelling by almost 50% - but the government has warned that ‘major challenges’ remain.

According to Ministry of Justice figures, 57,503 cases were outstanding in the Crown court system at the end of May, down from 58,228 at the end of April. Throughout May, the backlog shrank by around 200 cases a week.

Kingston Crown Court

There were 57,503 outstanding cases in the Crown court system at the end of May

Source: Shutterstock

In the magistrates’ court, the backlog stands at 453,482 cases. The number of outstanding cases peaked at 525,000 in July 2020 and has fallen steadily since.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: ‘While the pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge to our criminal courts, dedicated staff and professionals ensured justice continued to be delivered for victims.

‘Thanks to their efforts we are seeing positive results – outstanding cases in the Crown court are beginning to drop, and have fallen by around 70,000 in the magistrates’ court since last summer. Major challenges remain which is why we are investing hundreds of millions to further increase capacity, deliver swifter justice and support victims.’

Yesterday, the Law Society and the Bar Council opposed government plans to legalise remote juries. ‘It would be far better for the government to provide more appropriate facilities to enable criminal trials to take place in one properly equipped room,' they told MPs. 

Lawyers also fear that extended court operating hours will be 'introduced through the back door' as the government tries to tackle the backlog. Women in Criminal Law, a practitioner group, revealed that Northampton Crown Court is proposing to introduce what appears to be the Covid Operating Hours model.