09:18, March 26 231 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-26 09:18:05
Number of outstanding crown court cases reaches two-year high

The number of outstanding crown court cases in England and Wales has reached the highest level in two years, figures reveal, amid growing concerns about pressures on the criminal justice system caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

At the end of December, there were 37,434 cases waiting to be heard at crown courts, an increase of 13% on the previous year and the highest level seen since the final three months of 2017, figures released by the Ministry of Justice show.

The volume of cases being received by crown courts rose by 10% in the final three months of last year to 27,663, while the number leaving the courts fell by 8% to 24,565, the data reveals.

The statistics will add to concerns over the ability of the courts to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. Barristers and solicitors have said the courts were already under pressure before the health crisis.

Crown court trials across England and Wales were suspended or collapsed on Monday as judges attempted to find safer ways for juries and lawyers to conduct hearings.

Among high-profile cases that were brought to a halt was the trial of three teenagers accused of the murder of PC Andrew Harper.

Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) has put in place arrangements to use telephone, video and other technology to continue as many hearings as possible remotely. MPs were told on Tuesday that about 600 audio hearings and 100 video hearings had taken place across the courts in England and Wales on that day alone as the system adopted safer working practices.

More details to follow …