Wednesday, December 1, 2021
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Inner London Crown Court to be spared axe amid spiralling criminal case backlog

Inner London Crown Court in Borough is unlikely to be closed despite earlier government plans, a new report has revealed.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has shut down hundreds of courts since 2010 in an effort to streamline the judicial system. This was due to continue until Covid-19 struck, according to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO).

“HMCTS has confirmed it does not plan to dispose of any more court buildings as it needs to maximise courtroom capacity to support recovery,” the NAO report said.

Inner London Crown Court, on Newington Causeway, was one of the courts mentioned as a possible target of “consolidation” in a 2018 HMCTS report, but appears to be safe from the axe for now.

The criminal justice system was facing a backlog of more than 60,000 crown court cases as of the end of June, according to the NAO report. That is an increase of nearly 50 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

The backlog matters: “delays could mean more victims and witnesses withdraw from the process, increasing the likelihood of cases collapsing,” the NAO said.

London waiting times have been worst affected by Covid, by 72 per cent, compared with just eighteen per cent in the south-west of England.

Trials of rape and serious sexual offences are the worst-hit, because defendants are more likely to plead not guilty to these crimes. A not guilty plea means the trial is likely to take longer. Between March 31 2020 and 30 June 2021, the number of sexual offence trial cases in the Crown Court backlog rose by 71 per cent, with cases waiting longer than a year increasing 435 per cent.

Southwark has lost a crown court recently. Blackfriars Crown Court, which used to be one of three Crown Courts in the borough along with Inner London and Southwark, was closed in 2019 and sold off to be redeveloped into offices, complete with a ‘sky forest’.

The court was used as a set for Netflix’s crime drama Top Boy last year – while a backlog of tens of thousands of Crown Court cases was waiting to be heard.


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