Former Chief Crown Prosecutor: Court delays mean 'many offenders will re-offend'

11 March 2021, 20:52

By Maddie Goodfellow

Former Chief Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal OBE warns delays to the court system could mean offenders are out in the community for years before facing trial, telling LBC "in the meantime many of them will re-offend."

Speaking to Iain Dale and Denise Headley on LBC, Mr Afzal said: "Because of the pandemic, even before the pandemic, we had massive delays in the court system, but now they are fixing trials for 2023.

Asked if this means offenders will be out on the street, he responded: "Yes, exactly. And in the meantime, many of them will re-offend.

"And of course the victim is still dealing with the trauma of all of this.

"So you have a court system with massive delays, you have a loss of experience, and even the groups, the support groups like NGOs, they are starved of volunteers and funding.

"It is a perfect storm where people are desperately suffering and continue to suffer."

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Nazir Afzal spoke to Iain Dale on LBC
Nazir Afzal spoke to Iain Dale on LBC. Picture: LBC

It comes as the backlog of criminal cases waiting to be dealt with by crown courts in England and Wales has hit its highest level in a year.

The latest Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show there were 56,544 outstanding crown court cases at the end of January, up from 55,676 in December.

This is compared with 38,411 a year earlier, before the coronavirus pandemic took hold and courts were initially forced to shut as the country went into lockdown.

Overall, the backlog of criminal cases has fallen from a total of 455,374 in December to 441,791 in January.

This reflects a drop in the number of outstanding magistrates court cases, from 399,698 in December to 385,247 in January.

But the total still remains more than 80,000 higher than in January 2020.

The Government has said it is investing £450 million to "boost recovery in the courts and deliver swifter justice", insisting this is "already yielding results".

More than 20 Nightingale courts have now opened - with more expected soon - in a bid to boost capacity while proceedings need more space amid social distancing measures and it is hoped this will help clear the backlog.

In June, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said he hoped to clear the backlog of court cases exacerbated by the pandemic by Easter this year. More recently he has expressed hope the number of outstanding cases could be brought back to acceptable levels before Easter 2023.

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Mr Afzal went on: "And I think a broader issue though is about what is men's role on this.

"I've sat across from victims of femicides, hundreds of them, and they have all left a mark on me. I have sat with thousands of rape victims, and every single one has left a mark on me.

"And we keep saying this, police are telling women not to go out, why don't we tell men not to go out. Why must women change their behaviour?"