In Parliament this week I warned the Government that the increasing backlog of criminal court cases could have a detrimental impact on the victims of serious crimes.
Speaking in the House of Commons chamber during yesterday’s Justice Questions, I said: “There’s a real risk that victims of some of the most serious crimes including domestic abuse withdraw” before urging ministers to “meet with Gwent MPs virtually to discuss what the department is doing in our area” noting that “there’s a real fear that justice delayed is justice denied”.
Responding, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Alex Chalk MP said: “Can I thank the Honourable lady for that very proper concern which she expressed. I or one of my fellow ministers would be happy to do so. Can I say this, that every effort is being made to increase capacity to the fullest extent possible, but on the specific issue she raises about keeping victims and witnesses engaged, we’re very much alive to that and I spend a great deal of time speaking to victim services who I know do a wonderful job of making sure victims remain informed, engaged and involved”.
Despite the difficult circumstances Gwent Police are hard at work tackling criminality across Newport East and keeping our communities safe, but a decade of Conservative cuts has had a significant impact on our justice system causing long-standing issues that have only been made worse by the current pandemic.
The Ministry of Justice’s budget between 2019-20 in real terms was 25% less than it was between 2010-11. This means less legal aid being available, a decline in prison standards, and crucially a decrease in sitting days for courts. With the news today of a murder trial in Newport being postponed until 2021, I am deeply concerned about the impact these delays will have on victims and witnesses who deserve nothing less than justice.
At the end of 2019 there were 37,434 cases in the Crown Court backlog which has increased now to 41,000 cases. Speaking at the Justice Select Committee on the 22nd May the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, The Right Honourable The Lord Burnett of Maldon, estimated that due to the Coronavirus pandemic 1,000 criminal cases a month had been unable to begin.At the same select committee hearing, Lord Burnett told MPs that there had been a “steady erosion of available resources which cut services back to the bone” by the time coronavirus hit due to “years and years” of underfunding, the consequences of which are “coming home to roost.”