Olivia Cross discusses the wait for justice in England and Wales because of Covid 19.

The wait for justice in England and Wales.


In February 2021, the backlog of criminal cases in the Crown Courts of England and Wales reached 56,000. Some of these cases had already existed before COVID and have been pushed back and some are new cases that have transpired during COVID times. It has been estimated that cases will be pushed back until 2023 and could as in the opinion of some barristers are not tried until early 2024.

Even before the Coronavirus pandemic which, hit England and Wales in late 2019, there was a huge backlog of criminal cases ready to be tried.

The Labour Party has labelled this era as the “Decade of Cuts” this is because of the cuts made by the conservative governments over the past ten years which led the number of backlogged cases to be 39,000 even before the pandemic. This decade of cuts began with cuts to police numbers of which there have been 20,600 since 2010. Even in 2018 an article by the Guardian published an article that stated the message that the underfunded criminal justice system is crumbling, this is a message that I would deem true. There will be no improvement to the justice system whatsoever until the government fund it. As well as funding the system needs more court spaces to be used as of this year for all Crown Courts in England and Wales, 729 courts were available and only 350 were used. From this we can see that the so-called decade of cuts has irreversibly and negatively altered the justice system.

The effects can be seen through examples of cases, and one such example would be from a lady called “Jenny”. In 2018 “Jenny” who had be experiencing sexual violence from her partner, was encouraged to speak out about her experiences because of the #Metoo movement. Her allegations were recorded in the same year and the CPS found her partner to be guilty of serious offences. However, due to the problems with the backlog of cases, accessing justice was not straightforward and her abuser’s court date/ year has been pushed back until 2022.

Another example is of a serious and historic sex case in St Albans which was postponed for six months, this postponement has meant that the defendant was in a “dreadful state”. The delay in cases being tried conveys the legal maximum that justice delayed is justice denied, the delay of justice has consequences that are manifested through the effects on victims and offenders and confidence in the justice system. Confidence in the system is extremely important because the people need to feel like they are represented by law and will receive justice if they are ever in the position that they will need it. Disparities in the application of justice can cause grievances amongst offenders, victims, legal personnel, and the public. Dame Vera Baird QC is of the opinion that confidence in the justice system can only be restored by treating the victims as participants in cases rather than as outsiders. Victims of crime are too often side-lined, and their feelings disregarded which can lead to immense effect on their physical and mental health. The delays in justice can also mean that victims will withdraw from prosecuting offenders because they have lost faith in the process. This is frankly disgraceful and highlights that change needs to take place.

In the words of Grenville Cross SBS QC SC JP “Parliament should be examining ways of ensuring that trials are heard earlier”. Indeed, parliament has loosely coined a recovery plan, this plan includes 300 COVID safe court rooms, 120 extra hearing spaces and 60 temporary “Nightingale” court rooms (similar concept to the Nightingale hospitals). However, despite these plans many courtrooms and facilities have been deemed unsafe for use during these times. This means that a backlog of cases will still be apparent, and it also means that social distancing will decrease the numbers of defendants in courts. This illustrates that the system was damaged even before COVID, showing that the pandemic has acted as a catalyst in an already violent and chaotic situation.

The government needs to increase funding to improve the damage that they have caused the system. Part-time judges should also be utilised as they are qualified and able to help with the backlog of cases. Full-time judges still presided over many more cases for the same salary as they would normally receive, but they cannot hear all these cases as there are too many and other enough judges to go around. Also, the government should act upon the existing promise that they made in 2015 to enshrine the victims code into law, this will have the effect of improving victims faith in the justice system. This may also increase the publics faith in the justice too as they will see that action if being taken to try and rectify the crumbling justice system.