Bournemouth Crown Court faces a growing backlog of cases, latest figures show, as hundreds of victims of serious crime wait for justice.
Charities fear delays in courts in England and Wales will prevent people from reporting crimes in the future, while legal bodies fear even impacting the outcome of a trial .
Department of Justice data shows there were 614 cases pending in Bournemouth Crown Court at the end of March, a 32% increase from 464 at the same time in the year last.
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They included 132 cases related to allegations of violent assault and 56 cases of sexual offenses.
In England and Wales, 59,500 cases were expected to be dealt with in Crown courts at the end of March, an increase of 45% from the previous year.
The Justice Department said the long delays were due to the impact of Covid-19 which led to a limited operation in criminal courts, particularly last year.
However, the Law Society of England and Wales, which represents the lawyers, said the pandemic had only worsened decades of underfunding and court closures.
President Stephanie Boyce said the delays in cases further compounded the “court crisis” and could impact not only the lives of victims, but also the outcome of cases.
She added, âLet us not forget the victims, the years of waiting for justice, and sometimes the abandonment of the system, which is a blow to justice in this country.
“Memories fade, which means witnesses cannot give such strong evidence, which can mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.”
Charity Victim Support said longer wait times negatively impact victims, especially those suffering trauma from serious crime.
Rachel Almeida, Deputy Director, said: âLong delays undermine confidence in the criminal justice system and may deter victims and survivors from becoming involved in the future.
“All possible steps must be taken to address the backlog in the courts and reduce these long waits before trial.”
At Bournemouth Crown Court, 951 cases were concluded between April 2020 and March 2021, up from 1,177 the previous year.
Western Circuit Chief Kate Brunner QC said: âThe justice system has been underfunded for years and Covid has made all the problems worse.
“There was already a backlog of cases before the pandemic because the government was not funding enough ‘sitting days’ and courtrooms were unused in order to save money.
âThe backlog is even worse now, although judges, court staff and lawyers have worked so hard across the Southwest during the pandemic to get things done, sometimes taking personal risks by going to court during the pandemic. locking.
âThe government has now released funds for the courts and things are slowly improving, but the wait times for some witnesses and defendants are terrible. I really hope that this is a turning point and that our judicial service will be properly taken care of from now on. ”
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that since April 2021, the backlog of outstanding cases in crown courts has started to decrease, although the latest figures are not available at the individual court level.
They said: âThe dedicated staff and professionals have kept justice in motion during the pandemic and through their efforts we are seeing positive results – outstanding cases in Crown court are starting to decline.
“Major challenges remain, which is why we are investing hundreds of millions to further increase capacity, deliver faster justice and support victims.”