This week, the Inspectorates for policing, prisons, probation and prosecutions published a joint report highlighting the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Criminal Justice System. They conclude that the greatest risk to criminal justice comes from the “unprecedented and very serious” backlogs in Courts and in particular the Crown Courts.
The number of ongoing cases in Crown Courts was 44% higher in December 2020 compared to February of the same year. Latest figures reveal a backlog of 54,000 cases.
The legal system can be bewildering for any victim of crime; and doubly so for those who have suffered serious police misconduct, who are in reality victims, but who first may face the trauma of being the alleged ‘criminal’ before they have the opportunity to turn the tables on their accusers.
Last June, I highlighted the case of my client John, who in June 2019 was violently assaulted by a Police Officer – but then falsely arrested for assaulting that same Officer.
Fortunately the Officer and his colleagues were (for the most part) recording events on their body worn cameras and the incriminating footage was preserved.
When John was subsequently interviewed by an independent officer, the footage was watched and the truth of what happened was laid bare. John was quickly released and advised soon after that no further action would be taken against him.
The original officers’ conduct, however, was now the subject of an internal enquiry and thereafter a formal complaint investigation. Following that investigation, the CPS reviewed the evidence and determined that the officers should be prosecuted for assault and conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
The officers pleaded not guilty and the case was listed to be heard in the Crown Court, with trial to take place in September 2020.
Unfortunately because of the Covid pandemic, the trial was adjourned. John has just received notification that the trial has been rescheduled to take place in September 2021, 2 years and 3 months after the incident…
The outstanding trial is just one of the 54,000 unheard cases stuck in the Crown Court backlog referred to above.
I called John to give him the news. He told me that given the passage of time, he’d struggle to remember what happened and then, of more concern said “I may not bother (attending)”.
This loss of faith in the Justice system is exactly what concerns the Inspectorates who have called for Criminal Justice agencies to work closely together and for the Government to provide national directions as well as the funding, time and access to expertise to help recovery.
As US Chief Justice Warren E. Burger stated in 1970, “A sense of confidence in the Courts is essential to maintain the fabric of ordered liberty for a free people.”
Maintaining the overall health of a society is of course not just about people’s physical well-being, but also the mental aspects of us all as citizens being able to witness impartial justice swiftly and fearlessly delivered; in this respect the Government needs to prioritise and resource the criminal justice system as vigorously as if it were a limb of the National Health Service itself.