England: Criminal justice system being brought ‘to its knees’

The criminal justice system is being brought “to its knees” in England and Wales, James Mulholland QC has said.

The chair of the Criminal Bar Association told The Guardian that the pandemic had worsened the crisis but that severe cuts to the Ministry of Justice since 2010 had left it dangerously under-resourced.

He said, as a result, that “very vulnerable people who have to go through the system are being let down. You can’t have a completely under-funded system from beginning to end”. 

There are some 50,000 Crown Court cases pending, of which about 33,000 will involve full trials. The Crown Court completed only 12,00 trials last year, Mr Mulholland said.

“The system is in logjam. We are having some cases listed into 2023 for trials where people are being released on bail sometimes for offences like rape, sexual offences, affray and significant burglaries.

“Sentencing judges are now entitled to take into account the Covid experience [and deliver reduced prison terms] – so while the innocent may be held longer [in custody awaiting] trial, the guilty are benefiting.

“We are holding people in custody for up to 18 months. There’s no compensation if they are found not guilty. We have 17-year-olds who are not going to be tried until 2023. Will they have to spend their youth waiting for an outcome that will impact their whole life?

“The government says it is going to be tough on sentencing but at the moment only 7 per cent of police-recorded offending ends up in a [prosecution].

“There’s a one in 50 chance of a pensioner who is burgled seeing that person brought to justice. The police don’t have the resources. Only 1 – 1.5 per cent of [reported] rapes result in charges. Even then it’s 1,319 days for the average rape case to go through the system from actual offence to completion.”