Victims facing long wait for justice as Shropshire's crown court has 'worst backlog in region'

Victims of crime in Shropshire are being forced to wait a long time for justice as the court system faces "the worst backlog" in the region.

Shrewsbury Crown Court is now holding sessions at Telford Magistrates Court to try and ease the pressure in the system.
Shrewsbury Crown Court is now holding sessions at Telford Magistrates Court to try and ease the pressure in the system.

Shrewsbury Crown Court is now holding sessions at Telford Magistrates Court to try and ease the pressure in the system, meaning victims of crime in the county are forced to wait the longest for justice.

The situation was exacerbated by the recent barrister strikes, but the court system was already struggling to deal with the case load, with the Covid pandemic a significant factor.

Judge Peter Barrie bemoaned the circumstances as he adjourned the sentences of three convicts involved in a serious County Lines case at Shrewsbury Crown Court this week.

"We have by far the largest backlog of any court centre in the region," Judge Barrie said, explaining why the case had taken so long to get to court. He added: "We will re-list it as soon as possible."

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said that a crown court is running at Telford magistrates to "assist with recovery", relating to the backlog.

The court system was already struggling to deal with the case load before the barrister strikes, which started on June 27.

Legal advocates took action after years of complaints that the system of legal aid, which makes up the bulk of their pay, had been slashed, resulting in cuts to their income of 35% in the last decade.

It meant that trials, sentences and other hearings at Shrewsbury Crown Court and other courts across the country had to be adjourned, with victims left waiting for justice and defendants having to await their fate.

It started with advocates striking on certain days of the week, gradually increasing until September 5, when barristers escalated the action by striking every day.

When the strikes started, Stephen Scully, a criminal barrister for Shropshire firm Lanyon Bowdler, said: “There was already a significant backlog in the courts before Covid, and we are now in the position where it is getting worse because of the lack of funding and people are leaving in their droves.”

Barristers voted to end the strikes on October 17 after a deal was struck for them to accept a 15 per cent pay rise.

Michelle Heeley KC, leader of the Midlands Circuit which represents Shrewsbury Crown Court, and a barrister at No5 Barristers’ Chambers, warned that the backlog had existed before the coronavirus pandemic and added that the government needs to invest more in the courts.

The most recent Ministry of Justice data shows there were 547 outstanding cases at Shrewsbury Crown Court at the end of June.

That was up from 521 at the end of March, and 515 at the same point in 2021.

Uncompleted case numbers are ​90 per cent higher than they were prior to the coronavirus pandemic – in June 2019, there were 288 cases outstanding at Shrewsbury Crown Court.

Of the cases outstanding at the end of June, 143 – 26 per cent, related to alleged violent attacks, and 75 – 14 per cent, were for sex offences, including 17 alleged rapes.

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