Sussex courts facing huge backlog due to pandemic

The closure of courts in Sussex due to the pandemic has left them facing a backlog of around 700 trials.

Thursday, 29th October 2020, 12:49 pm
Hove Trial Centre

The figure was shared by Julia Chapman, Deputy Chief Constable of Sussex Police, who said lockdown had had ‘a significant impact’ on the criminal justice system.

Ms Chapman was speaking during a performance and accountability meeting with Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne on Friday, who said the delays at crown court were ‘of particular concern’.

The meeting was told that the backlog affected around 19,000 victims and witnesses, including police officers.

Most courts closed in March and started reopening on a much reduced basis in May – but the need for social distancing was a problem in some of the county’s more historic buildings.

Ms Chapman said Hove Crown Court had to introduce 150 safety measures to make it viable for a jury to be present.

The backlog has seen staff lumbered with higher case-loads and Ms Chapman said she had asked for more staff temporarily to help them cope.

Recognising that victims and witnesses were bound to be disappointed if their case was delayed, she added: “At the moment the CPS are working extremely hard with us to make sure that all of the cases are trial ready.

“New cases are being listed for May and June 2021.

“Obviously that is quite a long time for people to wait.

“The challenge will be for witnesses and victims to stay with the court process.

“It has a significant impact on our victims and witnesses. I have every empathy for them in having to wait that long for a case to come to court.

“Some people are very anxious about the experience. They want to move on with their lives naturally but we need to make sure that we can bring offenders to justice.”