Shropshire courts backlog could lead to crisis, say police commissioner
Urgent action is needed to prevent a two-month backlog of court hearings and a crisis in Shropshire's criminal justice system, the region's police and crime commissioner has said.
The impact of the coronavirus crisis has left more than 1,200 cases waiting to be dealt with, according to West Mercia's police and crime commissioner, John Campion, who said the situation is "letting down victims", and could create problems for years to come.
Mr Campion has outlined his concerns in a letter to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, requesting his help.
He has suggested the use of more temporary courts, remote evidence and weekend courts, as some of the ways to try to clear the backlog.
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Mr Campion said: "In West Mercia we currently have a backlog of more than 1,200 criminal cases awaiting court hearings. I acknowledge and respect that courts sitting in traditional ways is currently impossible due to the pandemic.
"However, despite several conversations with senior officials I do not have confidence that there is a plan in place to address that growing backlog. As such, I also have serious concerns about the consequences should the backlog continue to grow.
He added: "There are currently no crown court trials running in West Mercia and only a handful of magistrates’ court cases are being heard. As the courts are at a standstill, I feel we need to consider multiple options to address the growing backlog of cases.
"Options might include temporary spaces where trials could be heard, increased use of remote evidence, additional courts being put on to reduce the backlog, weekend courts and so on.
"Unfortunately the implementation of any of these options is beyond my remit alone and progress has been seemingly non-existent through other avenues.
"The impact on victims and witnesses is only going to get worse the longer the recovery phase is delayed. Victims and witnesses are already experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety. We collectively owe it to them to expedite a coordinated response to addressing the issues affecting the CJS (criminal justice system), and ensure that a challenging situation is not allowed to spiral out of control."
Mr Campion has previously created a video remand suite which prevents the controversial need for remand prisoners being taken from Shropshire to Kidderminster for hearings.
His letter states: "I feel that I am doing my utmost to assist the CJS during the crisis, and of course am willing to do more, but regret that it does not feel other parts of the system share that commitment or sense of urgency."
He added: “Covid restrictions in our courts are not the issue. The problem is the grinding halt the criminal justice system has come to.
"If urgent action to halt the backlog isn’t taken soon there is no telling how long it might take to put right the damage done.
“Action must be taken to, at the very least, minimise the impact of Coronavirus and ensure access to justice continues. Victims want to move forward and recover. Part of that requires a justice system that works for them.”
The Ministry of Justice has been contacted for comment.