Lavender Hill magistrates court

Magistrates’ courts saw backlog of 11,000 cases last year, FOI reveals

The number of outstanding magistrates’ court cases in south west London rose to more than 11,000 in 2020, it can be revealed.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request, the Ministry of Justice reported that the number of cases waiting to be heard increased from 7,038 in January to 11,356 in August last year, an increase of 46.9%. 

The data held relates to the number of cases before Lavender Hill and Wimbledon Magistrates’ courts in south west London.

It comes amid warnings from a number of watchdogs that victims of crime potentially face years of delays to court cases.

Rachel Almeida, assistant director at Victim Support, said: “We are greatly concerned about the long waits for trial that victims are currently facing.

“Many victims are left putting their lives on hold, sometimes for many years, and feeling that justice is not being done. 

“We also fear that this is undermining confidence in the criminal justice system, and may result in victims dropping out of the process or not waiting to engage again in the future.”

Between February and April last year, receipts (the number cases received) at Lavender Hill and Wimbledon Magistrates’ courts reached 10,394, while disposals (the number of cases completed with a final result) dropped to just 7,227. 

During this period, the amount of outstanding cases before the two courts rose from 7,952 to 10,168, an increase of 27.86%. 

As of October 2020, the total number of cases waiting to be heard in magistrates’s courts across the UK reached 499,722.

Meanwhile in the capital, the number hit 112,431. 

Almost half of all courts nationally were forced to close last year in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus by reducing interaction between users.

According to evidence given to the House of Commons Justice Committee, between the end of March until the last three weeks of April ‘essentially, no magistrates’ court trials took place at all.’ 

Claire Waxman, London’s independent victims commissioner, 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 workplaces have achieved this within a matter of days. 

“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.”

In July, the Government announced proposals to establish 10 ‘Nightingale Courts’ to alleviate the backlog of cases. 

So far, a total of 39 temporary courtrooms have been set up nationwide in an attempt to increase the number of cases being heard. 

Forming part of a wider range of measures set out by the Ministry of Justice, more than 3,000 cases have been cleared through these courtrooms across the UK.

Chris Philp, courts minister, said: “These new Nightingale courts will help to boost the capacity in the system – reducing delays and ensuring speedier justice for all.

“This is the latest step in our plan to work with the judiciary and legal sector in pursuing every available option to ensure our courts recover as quickly as possible.”

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