“Withering” criminal justice system as backlog of crown court cases hits record high

updated on 18 December 2023

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The backlog of crown court cases has increased by 3% on the previous quarter to 66,547, according to new figures published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). This is the highest outstanding caseload on record, making the UK government’s target of reducing the backlog to 53,000 by March 2025 seem less achievable.

Of these outstanding cases, nearly 18,000 (28%) have been open for one year or more.

Meanwhile, there are 352,945 outstanding cases in the magistrates’ courts, which is up 3% on the previous quarter.

Nick Emmerson, the president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “The criminal justice system is withering at the root due to decades of underinvestment and the government’s failure to tackle the crisis.

“Delays in the courts are being compounded by a chronic shortage of lawyers and judges, overrun prisons and courts in disrepair. The increase in the number of people on remand for long periods awaiting trial is extremely concerning.

“Criminal defence solicitors are crucial to help tackle the huge backlogs in our courts, but they’re becoming more and more scarce as the work isn’t financially viable. The existing lack of court staff overall is exacerbating the crisis.

“The fundamental right to access to justice is at stake without urgent investment into criminal justice.”