Wiltshire PCC's reassurance over virus-related court delays

By Barrie Hudson - 31 July 2020

Community

Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson has sympathised with people affected by the corona-related backlog in the court system.

  • The Police and Crime Commissioner took part in a conference call with fellow PCCs and Ministry of Justice officials

    The Police and Crime Commissioner took part in a conference call with fellow PCCs and Ministry of Justice officials

He spoke after the House of Commons Justice Committee released a new report, Coronavirus (COVID-19): The impact on courts.

The report revealed, among other data, that the Crown Court backlog in May stood at 40,900. The total at the same time last year was 33,600.

Magistrates' Courts had 416,600 outstanding cases  at the end of May this year, the highest total since the previous peak of 327,000 in 2015.  

Mr Macpherson said: "I welcome the ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): The impact on courts’ report shared yesterday by the House of Commons Justice Committee.

"Although some courts and tribunals in England and Wales have continued to function throughout the covid-19 pandemic the impact of the pandemic is evident.

"Here in Wiltshire, like many other counties, we are experiencing a large backlog of cases waiting to be heard. I am pleased to see the opening of our local crown and magistrate courts, but the covid Secure measures required to keep staff and members of the public safe mean that courts will continue to operate at reduced capacity.

"I recognise that this is no doubt having a significant effect on victims, witnesses and defendants, who deserve to have their cases heard in an efficient and timely manner, but are having to put their lives on hold during these long delays.

"I want to reassure all those who are currently engaged within the justice system that urgent steps are being taken. 

"The Wiltshire Criminal Justice Board, which I chair, is working to support the courts and partners, scoping opportunities for extending opening hours and additional court capacity and looking at how we can better embed the use of technology in our local criminal justice process so trials can be heard digitally.

"I have raised my concerns with the Lord Chancellor and I am looking forward to continuing discussions during the summer recess. I have also met with local judiciary to discuss local challenges, consider new approaches, and to see how courts are operating under COVID restrictions."

Mr Macpherson revealed that he had joined his fellow PCCs for a conference call with representatives of the Ministry of Justice. 

He added: "All PCCs expressed their hope that the Additional Courts and Tribunal Group (ACTG) will engage with PCCs to facilitate the opening of additional premises to help remove backlogs which we anticipate will be with us until 2021 unless additional action is taken.

"I am pleased the changes introduced are beginning to make a difference, and that the ongoing court reform programme has been accelerated, but there is still plenty of work to be done before we see a real impact. 

"As PCC for Wiltshire and Swindon my concerns remain with the victims and witnesses who will have to endure a long delay before their case is heard.

"I will continue to prioritise victims and witnesses, ensuring that capacity is available for local support through my victim and witness care service, Horizon, and other specialist support services.

"I have recently directed over £300,000 of Ministry of Justice funding to specialist services supporting victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and I will continue to campaign for further funding to enable these specialist services to continue their support for victims of crime."

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