‘Unacceptable’ - rape trial backlog up by more than 70% in London

City Hall has called on the government to tackle the waiting list, which they slammed as “alarming… unacceptable and unsustainable”.

The backlog of alleged rape cases awaiting trials has increased by more than 70% in the capital in the past year, figures have revealed.

Data showed there were 940 outstanding alleged rape and sexual offences case in London’s crown courts in June 2021, up from 551 in June 2020, which is an increase of 71%.

City Hall has called on the government to tackle the waiting list, which they slammed as “alarming… unacceptable and unsustainable”.

Susan Hall, policing committee chairman, said: “This backlog is an unacceptable and unsustainable situation for London.

“The figures make for alarming reading – we must remember there is a human impact behind each of these cases.”

Susan Hall GLA Conservatives leader. Credit: London Assembly

Ms Hall, leader of the Conservative group on the London Assembly, who took over as policing committee chair when Shaun Bailey stood down after a photo emerged of him at a party at Tory HQ during lockdown restrictions, continued: “Complainants and witnesses are regularly waiting months and, in some cases, years before their case is heard.

“For rape and sexual offences, the longer it takes for a case to be heard, the more likely it is that complainants and witnesses will withdraw from proceedings.”

It comes as figures emerge showing there were 16,021 outstanding cases in the crown court system in the capital, an increase of 72% on March 2020.

While so-called ‘super courtrooms’ have been introduced around the country, including in Manchester and Loughborough, to tackle the impact of the pandemic on the justice system.

In a letter to the justice secretary Dominic Raab, dated today (Tuesday, December 21), Ms Hall asked whether the government plans to introduce a super court in the capital, “given London has experienced the biggest increase in the backlog of cases and is a city with a high share of the country’s most serious criminal cases”.

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Ms Hall said: “Despite several Nightingale Courts being established, I’m not satisfied that this response is sufficient to meet the scale of the problem facing London’s Crown Courts.

“That is why I am urgently asking the government to further consider the need for additional courtroom capacity, including super courtrooms, to deal with complex, multi-handed cases, given the acute needs in London.”

Rape and sexual abuse organisation The Survivors Trust has highlighted the impact of delays on charities supporting victims of such crimes.

A spokesperson for the trust previously said: “Multiple lockdowns have created longer and longer delays with courts struggling to manage the number of cases.

“The extensive backlog of rape, sexual abuse and sexual violence cases going through courts has led to even greater pressure being placed on independent sexual violence advisor (ISVA) services, with ISVAs spending longer periods of time supporting victims and survivors through the delayed court process.

“Court delays [have] had a negative impact on service users’ mental health… in 24% of cases the delays had led to victims/survivors withdrawing from the court process.”

A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesperson said: “We have kept justice moving despite the vast impact of the pandemic and are investing almost half a billion pounds to drive recovery and deliver the swift access to justice victims deserve.

“Challenges remain but we have opened nine Nightingale courtrooms in London as well as five additional crown courtrooms at Hendon Magistrates’ Courts and the Royal Courts of Justice.”