Hertfordshire: Backlog of crown court trials at 'crisis point' says PCC

  Posted: 20.11.20 at 16:14 by Deborah Price

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The backlog of criminal cases awaiting crown court trial in Hertfordshire is now at ‘crisis point’, Police and Crime Commissioner David Lloyd has warned.

More than 700 of some of the most serious and complex crimes in the county are waiting to be tried at crown court.

And Mr Lloyd estimates the increasing backlog – resulting from court closures and continuing restrictions to halt the spread of Covid-19 – won’t be cleared until 2023.

Even before Covid restrictions were brought in Mr Lloyd says there were 654 outstanding crown court trials in Hertfordshire. But by October 25, he said that figure had risen “significantly” to 739.

Speaking at a meeting of the county council’s community safety and waste management cabinet panel on Wednesday, Mr Lloyd raised fears that the mounting backlog could impact on policing.

He suggested simpler cases that can be dealt with quickly by the courts were being prioritised – with the more complex cases waiting longer.

And he expressed fears victims of ‘intimate’ crimes may choose not to press charges – rather than wait so long for justice.

He told councillors: “To an extent where we are at at the moment is at that crisis point, because the courts are seeing a backlog now which may well mean that we are not getting cases into court until 2023.

“It is not because the court service isn’t trying its best – it is because Covid restrictions have meant that a number of courts have had to close because of social distancing.”

Mr Lloyd suggested that the delays in the courts may lead to a move by the police towards fines or other ‘out of court disposal’ measures.

And he said: “Whilst that might be the right way of doing it – and I am quite a fan of out of court disposals – I don’t like it happening because of pressure from elsewhere in the system.”

Mr Lloyd also expressed fears that some – particularly victims of ‘intimate’ crime – may decide not to bring a complaint at all, because of the wait before trial.

But he stressed the support that would be available throughout the process.

“My plea, and what I am really trying hard to do is to say to those people ‘we will support you through this whole process’,” he said.

“‘It may be longer, but you do get great support in Hertfordshire though our independent sexual violence advisers, through our beacon advisory area.

“‘We will support you even if it has to take longer.”

The issue was raised by the Police and Crime Commissioner at a meeting of the county council’s community safety and waste management cabinet panel.

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