UK -Covid and the courts: 'Grave concerns' for justice, warn watchdogs
Four criminal justice watchdogs for England and Wales have warned they have "grave concerns" about the impact of court backlogs caused by the pandemic.
The inspectorates for policing, prisons, probation and prosecutions say issues it has caused could damage the criminal justice system for years.
It comes after figures revealed the backlog in the crown courts has reached 54,000 unheard cases.
That means some crimes from last year will not go before a jury before 2022.
The inspectorates say the unprecedented situation in the courts is having a ripple effect across all of criminal justice.
Court work slowed and, in the case of jury trials, stopped during the first part of the pandemic, when the lockdown advised people to stay at home, except for certain circumstances.
While it has now crept back up, with social distancing measures in place, the watchdogs warn continuing delays will increase the likelihood of damage to the entire justice system.
Justin Russell, the chief inspector of probation, said: "Crown courts deal with the most serious cases, so this backlog concerns us all. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant severe delays and numerous cancellations throughout 2020, and this has had a negative impact on everyone involved.
"Delays mean victims must wait longer for cases to be heard. Some will withdraw support for prosecutions because they have lost faith in the process.
"Witnesses will find it difficult to recall events that took place many months ago, and prosecutors waste significant periods of time preparing for cases that do not go ahead."
by Dominic Casciani
Home affairs correspondent