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Herts Police and Crime Commissioner David Lloyd calls on Government to tackle justice crisis

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The justice system is in crisis, according to Hertfordshire's police and crime commissioner (PCC).

David Lloyd has written to Home Secretary Priti Patel and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland calling for urgent action over court delays.

Waiting times for cases to reach Crown court are up to three years in some parts of England and Wales. In Hertfordshire, St Albans Crown Court has a backlog of about two years.

On behalf of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Mr Lloyd, a Conservative, warned the Government that the Covid-19 crisis has extended court waiting times, which could lead to fewer victims reporting crimes and lower conviction rates.

Also, those accused were waiting years to clear their names, while serial offenders would be free to carry on harming communities before they faced justice, he added.

To address the issue, Mr Lloyd has called for a significant change of culture within the system and a devolution of sovereignty to local criminal justice boards to make plans, hold to account and solve problems. He also advocated more use of video technology to speed up cases and the setting up of additional courts in buildings such as sports centres.

He said: "I am concerned about the backlog that is coming down the line nationally and what consequences it will bring.

"Until we get better data sharing from criminal justice agencies, such as Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), we can't see exactly how great this problem is.

"The average backlog today is two years. If matters are not addressed we will get to a point where the whole system grinds to a halt.

"I've seen figures of a three-year delay in Northumberland, and although the Lord Chancellor has contested that, those involved locally are saying that is the case and I have no reason not to believe them. At St Albans Crown Court it is approximately two years.

"Broadly the aim for those going into the criminal justice system is that their case should be dealt with within six months. Both victims and their accused should be able to get justice in this time period so they can move on with their lives.

"We have a lot of younger adults involved in the criminal justice system – if they have to wait three years to potentially clear their names, the life chances available during that time may be lost forever.

"In addition, we have an incredibly low conviction rate for rape nationally, and we know many victims currently do not even report their attacks to police. If they know that it will be years, and even then they may not get their day in court, that rate will fall even lower."

Mr Lloyd was also concerned that the public would lose faith in reporting crimes to police if they felt the offender would not be swiftly prosecuted.

"We have ensured that all crimes are properly recorded, and we in Hertfordshire are satisfied that public confidence is such that they do report more crimes. But that won't happen if they feel they are putting in a lot of effort for very little result.

"Our country is based on the rule of law, and if confidence is lost in the criminal justice system then we will be in a really bad place.

"These delays will also cause issues with witnesses when they take the stand, making it hard for them to remember what happened years before.

"Defence lawyers will start to say to tell their clients to plead not guilty so they can wait to see what happens.

"There are also those offences such as drug dealing and burglary, where those responsible may go on plying their trade while they are waiting to go to court."

On behalf of all PCCs, Mr Lloyd called for more data sharing between all those involved, including HMCTS, police, the Crown Prosecution Service and local criminal justice boards.

"The chair of the local criminal justice board should be able to hold to account those who administer justice in their area," he said.

"We need more localism and local legislation to address issues on the ground. I see no reason why a courtroom could not be set up in a week – you just need a large room and to take account of security considerations.

"We must realise that we are in a crisis and that we need to think outside the box to get through it."

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