Sussex court cases taking 418 days to complete is ‘unacceptable’

Statue of Justice
Statue of Justice

The average court case in Sussex is taking more than a year to complete from an offence being committed, according to a damning report by MPs.

The Public Accounts Committee found that the criminal justice system is ‘close to breaking point’ and ‘bedevilled by long-standing poor performance including delays and inefficiencies, and costs are being shunted from one part of the system to another’, with a huge backlog in Crown Court cases waiting to be heard.

Sussex PCC Katy Bourne criticised the impact of delays on victims and witnesses

Sussex PCC Katy Bourne criticised the impact of delays on victims and witnesses

Its report published last week showed that in 2014/15 the length of time between an offence and completion of the case was the highest in Sussex, at an average of 418 days.

Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “This amount of time is unacceptable and does not deliver swift justice to victims.

“This is why I am leading the video enabled justice project across the South East to scale up the use of technology to improve the experience of victims and witnesses and access to justice. This will also save time for police officers, courts, prison staff and other partners.

“The key word in this ground-breaking project is enabled. The technology is not a magic bullet, it is the mechanism that invites the established court scheduling processes to adapt and evolve quickly.

“Video evidence is not new but the ambition to ‘industrialise’ its use is. The interests of victims and witnesses must come first. Victims often suffer anxiety about their court appearances and too many have to wait too long. Witnesses often do not appear because of the personal impact caused by lengthy court processes and delays.

“If businesses and other parts of the public sector can operate digitally by default, then the criminal justice system needs to catch up.

“We owe it to the people who have the courage to report crimes and those who will testify on their behalf to make this a more comfortable process capitalising on technology that is already available.”

The report found that the criminal justice system is not good enough at supporting victims and witnesses, with timely justice too dependent on where they live.

Central Government spending on the system has fallen by 26 per cent since 2010–11, with the Ministry of Justice ‘exhausting the scope to cut costs without pushing the system beyond breaking point’.

Meanwhile the full benefits of a reform programme will not be seen for another four years.

Labour and Co-operative MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “An effective criminal justice system is a cornerstone of civil society but ours is at risk.

“Too little thought has been given to the consequences of cutbacks with the result that the system’s ability to deliver justice, together with its credibility in the eyes of the public, is under threat.

“Our report paints a stark picture of the human cost of critical failings in management from the top down.

“The system is overstretched and disjointed. Victims of crime are entitled to justice yet they are at the mercy of a postcode lottery for access to that justice.”

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