= how long it took, on average, for child sexual abuse cases to complete in court in the year 2021/22
7,859sexual offences cases
were waiting in the Crown Court backlog in September 2022 – a then record high
= how much the number of postponed rape trials increased by from the year 2019/20 to 2021/22
- Maria,* a young woman who was raped multiple times by a serial rapist, was forced to wait 3 years and 7 months for her case to go to trial. During this time, the trial was postponed twice.
- After being told about one of these postponements, Maria heartbreakingly tried to take her own life. She spent five weeks in a specialist hospital in another part of the country and was left with life-changing physical injuries.
- Her mother wasn't always informed about developments in the case – something that she says would have allowed her to better support Maria.
*All names have been changed.
- Charlotte, an adult survivor of child rape and sexual abuse, experienced the trial for her case being postponed three times over the course of two years due to Covid-19 restrictions and barrister strikes. On one occasion, the trial was postponed on the day it was due to start.
- She described to us the emotional rollercoaster that she experienced as a result of the delays – and how this severely impacted her mental health, as well as her relationships with her partner and children.
💬 “Then the court date finally come; I thought, ‘This is it. Finally, I get to get it over with and then I can try [to] heal from the trauma’. Thinking that I can finally heal properly instead of dragging it all back up, time and time again.
I spent weeks having panic attacks and not sleeping; I wasn’t eating; my whole life was falling apart again ...
But [I was] prepared to tell my side to the court so I could finally be heard. Then it got postponed again – I was told I had to wait a year."
*All names have been changed.
*This data was released to Rape Crisis England & Wales in March 2023 by His Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service, under the Freedom of Information Act.
What's going wrong?
💰 Low pay and bad working conditions for barristers and solicitors. This has led to strike action and a shortage of criminal lawyers.
👨⚖️ A shortage of judges. This is due to the government decreasing the number of days that courts could be open for in the past (which meant that fewer judges were recruited), plus the shortage of criminal lawyers – the people who can go on to become judges!
🏢 Courtrooms sitting empty due to repairs needing to be carried out and not enough staff. On every working day in January 2023, between 10% and 46% of Crown courtrooms across England and Wales sat empty.
📆 Problems with how court dates are being scheduled. It's not clear whose job it is to make sure that this is done well. Meanwhile, multiple cases are sometimes scheduled for the same courtroom at the same time, while some cases are scheduled on the off-chance that a courtroom becomes free.
🦠 No pandemic planning for the courts. This meant that, when Covid-19 struck, the Crown Court did not have the IT systems or processes in place that would have enabled remote hearings and socially distanced courts.
⚖️ Inefficient trials. All of the problems above have led to more and more trials being delayed (as seen in the graph above), or collapsing at the last minute.
How can these problems be fixed?
Our recommendations include:
- The fast-tracking of sexual offence cases.
- Specialist sexual offence courts where all staff receive trauma-informed training.
- Judge-only trial pilots (because of jury trials being more costly and lengthy).
- A long-term and properly resourced strategy for recruiting and retaining criminal lawyers.
- Victims and survivors recognised as participants in the court process, rather than just witnesses to a crime.
- Long-term grants for specialist sexual violence and abuse services that support survivors through the criminal justice system.
Rebecca,* a survivor of multiple rapes, sexual abuse and other forms of abuse by her ex-partner (who has been released on bail ahead of the much-delayed trial)
"The only reason I am doing it now is for other women ... I don’t want to do the trial ... But I want something good to come out of this"