Prior to the pandemic, there was already a significant backlog of cases within the criminal courts and victims were waiting too long for justice to be delivered. These delays have been exacerbated by the pandemic, which reduced the capacity of the Courts, increasing backlogs across the criminal justice system (CJS). Whilst this issue is a national one, the impact is felt disproportionately in London with over 14,000 cases outstanding in the Crown Court. The anxiety and trauma victims experience is being prolonged as they wait for justice, placing an increased demand on frontline support services as a result. London’s Victims’ Commissioner, Claire Waxman, has heard first-hand from victims and witnesses who have lost faith and withdrawn from the system, or whose trials are listed into 2023. Of course, there has also been an impact on statutory services, with criminal justice agencies having to manage vastly increased workloads and adapt in response to new responsibilities.
I raised this issue with the Justice Secretary last year, and my Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and the Victims’ Commissioner have been lobbying for additional resources as well as bringing together statutory partners at a local level to tackle these issues. They welcome the steps that the Government has taken to mitigate against the growing backlog, such as opening Nightingale‑style courts, including five additional criminal courts in London, and removing the cap on judicial sitting days, but I am disappointed that our calls for a large‑scale secure facility in London to deal with more complex custodial cases has not been addressed.
Thank you, Mr Mayor. I am most concerned about vulnerable victims such as survivors of rape and domestic abuse. When I questioned the Deputy Commissioner [of the MPS] earlier this year, he said that due to the case backlog, the MPS witness and victim care unit had seen a 90% increase in workload. I know extra resources have been put in, but my concern is for, first of all, the safety of those people - primarily women - where their abusers may often be out on bail, but secondly about the attrition. Can I ask you about those two things? What does this mean for the safety, particularly of women and girls, and do you have any data on the attrition rate that is being caused by the delays?
Yes. This is something that Claire Waxman has done as the Victims’ Commissioner. We are concerned about both those things, and the concern is that things are getting worse, not better. You will have seen the apology from the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary in relation to the appalling way victims of rape have been treated and the paucity of successful prosecutions, and I am afraid it is made worse by the pandemic. I am more than happy to write to you with the stats which demonstrate how this has been exacerbated by the pandemic, but we are taking steps to address the backlog and the MPS has secured some additional staff to go into the Witness Care Unit to address this issue.
Good, thank you. In your answer you mentioned the much‑delayed Rape Review that the Government released last week, but that surprisingly did not make any reference either to the decades of cuts to our CJS or to the backlog of cases in this area. Will you be writing and making further representations to Government about the need for immediate action and funding?
You are right, it did not mention that, but when asked questions by the media I think the Justice Secretary did accept the cuts had an impact on what we are seeing now. I see it, as Mayor of London, in relation to the lack of support for victims and survivors. I see it in relation to fewer police officers, which leads to less of an ability to investigate, and fewer specialist teams in the police service. I see it in relation to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) having lost between 25% and 30% of their budget, which has an impact on their caseload, and then we see it in the courts as well.
We are lobbying the Government to address the backlog. We do meet regularly with criminal justice partners. We are hoping this CSR sees a significant increase in investment in policing and justice. Without additional responses, we simply are not going to address some of the serious failings in the CJS, which leads to not having as many people arrested, charged, prosecuted and convicted for rape as there should be.
Thank you. I think it is the case that you cannot get justice on the cheap, and if you believe in a system of justice that is fair and accessible you have to fund it properly.
My final question is around the Nightingale courts. They have been useful in clearing the backlog, but they are not really set up to deal with those complex cases. You have called for an increased court to deal with that. My concern, though, is that a lot of those venues that are used as these temporary courts will be going back to their normal use shortly. What assurances have you had from Government about replacing that capacity if those venues are no longer available?
We have explained to the court the reasons why it is important for this to carry on for some time. I mentioned in answer to an earlier question that some of these trials are set for 2023, so it is hardly surprising that the attrition rates are so bad. We continue to work with the Government to find the right venues. You are right, some of these venues are not appropriate for the more complex multi-handers, but we are keen to work with the Government to find venues that can address some of these issues. Longer judicial sittings make a difference, sitting at weekends makes a difference and the Government is looking into the issue of jury sizes. All this addresses the issue of the backlog but, as you said, without additional investment of resources we will not be able to address this issue.