Source: Mayor of London
Victims of serious and violent crimes face years of delays to court cases
London’s Independent Victims Commissioner, Claire Waxman, has warned that the backlog of court cases following lockdown means victims of rape, sexual abuse and violent crimes, face years of delay in their fight for justice.
Without further urgent Government intervention, the estimated 490,000 outstanding criminal cases as of July at courts across England and Wales risks further traumatising victims, forcing them to wait years for a trial date, and increases the chance of victims dropping out of the criminal justice process altogether.
Preliminary analysis published by the Ministry of Justice of cases progressing through the crown courts, which deal with the most serious cases such as murder, rape and robbery, shows they fell sharply by 57 per cent, between 8 March and 31 May . The most recently published National Statistics related to Criminal Courts shows that outstanding cases in the Crown Court increased by 25 per cent to almost 43,000 when compared to the same point in 2019. The magistrates courts, which deal with cases such as criminal damage, motoring offences, and assaults, recorded an increase in outstanding cases of 44 per cent to around 422,000 over the same period .
In March when the country went into lockdown, almost half of all courts across the country were closed and jury trials were paused. Since then, measures have been put in place to open courts again and establish Nightingale courts to address the backlog of cases.
London’s Victims Commissioner believes that safety measures have been too slow to be implemented, and the Nightingale courts are not addressing the extra capacity urgently needed for serious cases. Ten Nightingale courts have opened in England and Wales and the Government has promised a further eight. However, only three of the current Nightingale courts are dealing with criminal cases.
London’s Independent Victims Commissioner, Claire Waxman, said: “Victims of crime are facing years of uncertainty and delays in accessing justice due to a lack of investment in our courts and a reduction in court sitting days.
“It has simply taken far too long for COVID safety measures to be implemented in courts. It’s unacceptable that there have been significant delays in installing plexiglass when supermarkets and other work places have achieved this within a matter of days. It’s now 6 months into the pandemic and courts should have been COVID ready when they started re-opening. The slowness to respond has created further delays. Many victims have already waited years to get their case to court and will be trying to cope with trauma and the anxiety of going to court. They are now being left in that agonising state for even longer as their court dates are moved, sometimes repeatedly and without proper notice. I am also seriously concerned that the increasing delays mean that victims will decide to opt-out of the criminal justice process altogether, denying them the justice they deserve, and meaning we risk seeing even lower prosecution rates for rape cases and rapists will go free.
“While I welcome the Government’s important investment in Nightingale courts and their commitment to open more, they need to move far quicker to address the backlog in serious cases.
“We need to see urgent funding and progress from the Government to ensure that more Nightingale courts are opened at speed, and existing court rooms are made COVID secure as quickly as possible, accommodating the needs of vulnerable victims. The Government should also ensure that they are using technology far more and offering remote hearings when possible, so that victims can get their court ordeal out of the way and can focus on their recovery.”
Case study A
“In May 2019, I was violently assaulted by three men, in an unprovoked attack which was both homophobic and transphobic in nature. Since then, I felt the urgent need to relocate from the area, especially in light of the fact that the case has still not gone to court.
“Although initially given a court date of the following summer of 2020, I was informed the evening before that the hearing had been cancelled. Another date was given several weeks later for two months preceding the original one. However, as before, it was cancelled at the last moment. The reason given for both cancellations was ‘complications around social distancing’.
“This has been a terrible blow not only for myself but for all those individuals working to support me, including the Police and Galop (an LGBT victim support group). I realise that given the current pandemic climate certain allowances need to be made on occasion; the inconsistency though of communication and the failure of the responsible agency to bring this case to trial has been hard to bear.
“Innocent victims deserve justice, the public needs confidence in legal procedures and perpetrators need to know that their antisocial attitudes and behaviour will not tolerated but instead will be met with a swift and appropriate lawful response.
“Beyond myself, I will continue to seek justice and to wait for however long it takes to see the accused prosecuted, as I know that if one possesses the requisite strength and resilience, one must speak out for any and all who are less able and more vulnerable. Violence and discrimination are wholly unacceptable in a civilised society; those in governing roles have an ethical imperative to uphold this truth.”
Case study B
“I reported to the police in December 2016. The abuse started around 2003-2004. In the summer of 2019 the two perpetrators were charged with a combined 19 charges. Additional charges were reviewed and the perpetrators had a plea hearing at inner London crown court in January 2020, for a combined 42 charges.
“A trial date was set for 7th September 2020. On the 3rd of September 2020 I was informed the court had to postpone my court date set for 7th of September 2020 until June 2021. After a complaint to HMCT, the trial date was brought forward to February 2021.
“The whole process of trying to prosecute my abusers has been incredibly invasive and re-traumatising.
“I was appalled to hear my perpetrator pled guilty to three charges of rape, yet was released on bail. When I challenged the police on this decision, they said the judge decided this based on it being a historic crime and him not being a threat to society.
“The wait for justice has been agonising. I have cooperated as much as possible with the police and jumped through all their hoops, yet it is taking just over four years to bring my abusers to trial.”
“I have to constantly remind myself why I went ahead with reporting the abuse in the first place – to ensure no-one else is harmed like I was.”
Leni Morris, CEO of Galop, the UK’s LGBT+ anti-violence charity, says: “For victims and survivors, getting a case to court was already a very long and difficult process to go through even before the pandemic. We are now seeing clients, whose cases had already been open for a long time, facing further delays of up to a year and struggling with the cancellation of trials, which case happen at very short notice. We are seeing some clients withdrawing entirely because they can’t cope with further delays, meaning that perpetrators may not be brought to justice. Services supporting victims will absolutely continue to do so during these delays but this means, due to limited staff and resources, there will be less capacity to help new clients. Ultimately, for victims and survivors, facing such huge delays adds an extra layer of difficulty for those who have already been through very traumatic and difficult experiences.”