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Crown court disposals fall despite growing caseload

By Jemma Slingo

The Crown court faces a growing backlog of work, as the number of criminal cases reaching court rises but the number of disposals falls.

According to quarterly figures from the Ministry of Justice, the Crown court received 27,319 cases between July and September 2019, 1,200 more than in the same quarter of 2018. However, disposals fell from 27,179 to 26,224.

Figures also show a 3% rise in the number of outstanding cases – there are currently more than 30,000 – after several years of shrinkage. The rise marks a change in the generally downward trajectory of the Crown court’s workload, fuelled by ‘year-on-year decreases in the number of offences for which the police issue a charges/summons…along with a fall in the number of indictable offences being dealt with at the magistrates’ court’, according to the MoJ.

Average Crown court waiting times – which refer to the length of time between the date of sending or committal of cases from the magistrates’ court and the start of a substantive hearing – fell from 6.4 weeks in quarter 3 of 2018 to 5.9 weeks in 2019. However, sexual offences have a significantly longer waiting time (22.4 weeks), as do violence against the person offences (19.7 weeks) and fraud offences (15.4 weeks).

Caroline Goodwin QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said: ‘The gruel being served up to tackle a growing case load and backlog is derisory and does no justice for those left waiting for their cases to get to court. We say this: we are all being short changed as witnesses, defendants and victims of crime are all left wanting.’

She added: ‘The Crown court case load rises and the backlog grows, yet funding seems to have been scrimped together to add back a meagre 700 court sitting days in November, but only after 15% cull was imposed this spring to the annual court sitting days budget.’

The number of annual court sitting days fell from 97,400 in 2018/19 to 82,300 in 2019/20.

(Courtesy: Law Gazette Society)