Sex offence victims left in limbo as backlog of cases more than doubles at Luton Crown Court

Luton Crown Court is facing its biggest backlog of cases for sex offences, figures reveal, as the wait for justice for victims continues.

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 5:52 pm
Updated Thursday, 8th July 2021, 6:08 pm

Luton Crown Court is facing its biggest backlog of cases for sex offences, figures reveal, as the wait for justice for victims continues.

Charities fear delays at courts across England and Wales could stop people reporting crime in future, while legal bodies fear they could even impact the outcome of a trial.

Ministry of Justice data shows there were 79 outstanding cases for alleged sex offences at Luton Crown Court at the end of March.

Luton Crown Court is facing its biggest backlog of sex offence cases
Luton Crown Court is facing its biggest backlog of sex offence cases

That was a rise from the 37 at the same time last year, and the highest number since comparable records were first published seven years ago.

The cases were among 815 outstanding cases at Luton Crown Court at the end of March, including 213 relating to alleged violent attacks.

Across England and Wales, 59,500 cases were waiting to be dealt with by crown courts at the end of March, an increase of 45% on the previous year.

Of those, 6,300 (11%) involved allegations of sexual offences.

The Ministry of Justice said the long delays were brought on by the impact of Covid-19 which led to a limited operation at criminal courts, particularly last year.

However, the Law Society of England and Wales, which represents solicitors, said the pandemic has only compounded decades of underfunding and court closures.

President Stephanie Boyce said the case delays made a "courts crisis" even worse and had the potential to impact not just victims' lives, but also the outcomes of cases.

She added: “Let’s not forget victims, waiting years for justice, and sometimes giving up on the system, which is a heavy blow for justice in this country.

“Memories fade, meaning witnesses cannot give such strong evidence, which may make the difference between conviction and acquittal."

Coronavirus restrictions meant trials could not be held in some court buildings, leading to the opening of 60 Nightingale courtrooms across England and Wales, some based in stadiums, town halls and theatres.

Hearings were also carried out through remote technology, with more than half done in this way between May and December last year.

At Luton Crown Court, 883 cases were concluded between April last year and March this year, a fall from 1,014 the year before.