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I know the Government shares my commitment to ensuring victims and witnesses going through the criminal justice system get the service they expect and deserve.  

As Chairman of the Local Criminal Justice Board, I bring together key criminal justice partners to address shared issues, reduce reoffending and improve the experiences of victims and witnesses within the criminal justice system.   

Building further on this work, I formed a sub-group in September 2023 which includes representatives from the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Courts and Tribunal Service and West Mercia Police. Through this group, partners and I are working to mitigate the ongoing impact of the court backlog. 

Delivering on this, and hearing from partners, I understand the problems we are facing cannot solely be tackled at a local partnership level. The Crown Court backlog in West Mercia is getting worse and it will continue to decline without significant further investment or intervention.  

Pressures arising from the pandemic have not eased as anticipated, with the Crown Court outstanding caseload remaining high alongside court unavailability. This places pressure on all  agencies as they continue to maintain cases within the system while new cases enter it, with fewer cases being concluded. 

It is now not uncommon for a hearing to be relisted repeatedly and take up to five years to conclude. The subsequent impact on victims and witnesses cannot be overstated, nor can the impact on police officers.  

Analysis undertaken by West Mercia Police found that less than 50% of trials for which officers had been warned for went ahead. In the period reviewed, 71 cases were scheduled to be heard, involving 145 officers and staff. Only 17% were tried on their initial trial date with 49% of cases being relisted for three or more initial trial dates.  

The backlog is only being compounded further in West Mercia as there are now record levels of police officers. Committed to building a safer West Mercia, they are rightly arresting more offenders and charging them for their crimes. Through my continued investment into improving file quality, more of these offenders should be standing in front of a judge but the backlog is meaning justice can be delayed, in some cases, for more than two years.  

To help clear the backlog, I would welcome the introduction of incentives for defence lawyers to advise their clients to submit an early guilty plea rather than waiting till the day of trial to limit the time spent building cases and reduce the impact on victims and witnesses.  

Only recently there was an announcement by Lord Justice Edis, announcing the fast-tracking of historic rape and serious sexual offences cases, while this is welcome it will simply push the backlog further for victims of other crime types.   

In West Mercia, there are two rape and serious sexual offences registered in 2018 and were first listed into the Crown Court in February and May 2019. 

One of those two cases registered in 2018 has a trial date in August of this year, however, the other case doesn’t yet have a trial date. The defendant is living outside of the UK and since June 2023 medical evidence has been awaited to show a terminal cancer diagnosis.  A European arrest warrant was issued in September 2023.  For the victim they continue to wait for any updates, as they have done for the last six years.   

The story of intolerable pain delays are causing is one I hear too often from victims and witnesses. 

West Mercia’s duration from charge to finalisation in court now exceeds 550 days, impacting over 24,000 witnesses and victims currently being supported by the Witness Care Unit.  

I welcome the investment made since the pandemic and the recent announcement that the Nightingale courtroom will remain open in Telford until March 2025 for civil and family cases, but this will not allay the ever-growing backlog in criminal cases.  

That is why I am calling on the Government to set out its priorities to address the backlog and provide further investment to ensure the necessary resources are available to deliver change.  

 The following change is needed:    

  • Recognising recent efforts to increase judicial capacity, gaps remain limiting any impact on the backlog. 
  • In addition, there is difficulty obtaining counsel for both defence and prosecution inflating the already critical problem and negating the progress made with increasing judge capacity.  
  • Witness Care Officers continue to provide support to an ever-growing number of victims and witnesses. I have provided funding for additional posts to ensure they can continue to do this but more needs to be done by the government.  

Alongside the much-needed investment, I would welcome strengthening the role of Local Criminal Justice Boards by putting them on a statutory footing, as recommended in the PCC review part 2. This would give all PCCs as Chairs the levers to better drive improvements in the criminal justice system, improve the quality of data and information sharing across agencies.  

Kind regards, 

John Campion 

Police and Crime Commissioner 

West Mercia