Nottinghamshire’s Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Emma Foody, today cautiously welcomed government plans to address the Covid-19 courts backlog – but warned there was a long way to go until victims received the swift justice they deserved.
Speaking after Justice Secretary Robert Buckland announced a new Criminal Courts Recovery Plan to tackle the growing crisis facing UK courts, the Deputy PCC said the move was a step in the right direction.
But she voiced concern that too much emphasis was being placed on returning unheard case volumes to pre-Covid levels – which were already “grossly excessive” – and said wholesale changes were needed across the criminal justice system to improve efficiency both now and in the future.
“Our absolute priority in Nottinghamshire is to see victims and witnesses having their cases heard swiftly, enabling them to receive justice and rebuild their lives,” she said.
“Without an increase in court capacity, they are facing a wait of several years to receive justice. It’s absolutely imperative that the backlog is cleared – not merely restrained. The Government must wake up to the fact these issues are not exclusively related to Covid-19 and that the current system is inherently flawed.”
The East Midlands was overlooked when the government’s plans for 10 temporary “Nightingale courts” were announced in July.
In response, as part of a bid to boost Court capacity and resilience in the East Midlands, the PCC and Nottinghamshire Police offered Hucknall Training Centre to HMCTS (Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service) for use as a Nightingale Court – free of charge.
“Locally, we are determined to clear the number of outstanding cases and keep the ‘wheels of justice turning’,” said Ms Foody.
“Delays of the kind that have been experienced both pre and post-Covid, particularly in the Crown Court, are simply unacceptable and only prolong the trauma and despair of victims, who deserve much more.
“We hope the East Midlands, and Nottinghamshire in particular, is given the go-ahead for a Nightingale Court in the very near future. Clearly, there is now an extra £80m available to build capacity and we would call on the government to decide with urgency how and where they will invest because time is ticking.
“The simple fact is that the backlog in the Crown Court will continue to grow while the current safety restrictions limit our activity. Even more disappointing is the fact that the Recovery Plan will see the backlog increase for the most complex and serious Crown Court trial cases, as they are the most difficult to deal with under the Covid-19 regulations.
“The Plan includes several proposals designed to increase the number of cases heard – but we need to be more innovative, making better use of the resources we already have and working with the CJS agencies and HMCTS to develop new routes for swifter justice that will stop this crisis happening again. Money alone will not solve the problems.
“Victims of crime need to see justice happening. It is their right. The delays are already having a huge impact on public confidence and we will continue to work with our partners in the criminal justice system, and exhaust all opportunities, to find a realistic and effective way forward.”
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Posted on Tuesday 8th September 2020