Delays in the criminal justice system threaten to cause “a very considerable problem” and encourage victims or witnesses to back out, a meeting heard.
A backlog of more than 50,000 cases has stacked up because of the pandemic, Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Panel was told.
Some cases are being listed for 2022 already, which risks creating anxiety over the length of time before proceedings begin.
“I want to flag my acute concerns over the failure of justice to those victims if these court cases get pushed back any further,” warned Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Kathryn Holloway.
“A very considerable problem is brewing in the Courts Service in terms of the delay of criminal justice and trials because of coronavirus.
“This is because they don’t have Covid-secure premises, while magistrates court early hearings haven’t been taking place.
“The Criminal Justice Board has been very active in this. It’s written to the sitting judge at Luton Crown Court,” she explained.
“At the moment, some cases are being listed in 2022 and panel members will share my concern that victims will be failed because witnesses will fall by the wayside.
“And victims will decide themselves over a protracted period that they don’t wish to support cases and prosecutions either, because they want to move forward with their lives.”
Signpost in Bedfordshire is “very much involved in supporting victims and trying to help them through that process”, according to the PCC.
She asked the Criminal Justice Board to identify large local premises which “might be suitable to be used as a Nightingale-style facility” not only for the courts process in Bedfordshire but also potentially for surrounding counties.
“I’m disappointed through our partners we’ve been unable to find such Covid-secure buildings,” she said.
Her concerns were acknowledged by Central Bedfordshire Conservative Arlesey councillor Ian Dalgarno, who chairs the panel.
“It’s a huge concern to everyone that there’s in excess of 50,000 criminal justice cases waiting to go through the courts,” he said.
“Before Covid there was a huge number as well. It’s exacerbated what was already a considerable issue.
“In terms of providing timely justice to those people impacted by crime, it doesn’t help the situation.”
by Euan Duncan
Local Democracy Reporter