A former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) blames a backlog in court cases caused by COVID-19 for a spate of violent crime.
He spoke following the fatal stabbing of boxer Tyson Fury’s cousin and as criminal barristers voted to go on strike over pay.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service figures show the crown court backlog increased for the third consecutive month in June, reaching 58,973 cases.
Former GMP chief Sir Peter Fahy said the court backlog has seen alleged offenders on bail for longer and reoffending as a result. .
Sir Peter told Sky News: “The main issue is the huge backlog. There is a backlog of 58,000 cases and if you’re dealing with young criminals, crucially you get them into court quickly.
“If they are out on bail, the chances are that they’re going to commit more crime which puts more work back into the system and creates more victims.”
Sir Peter added: “The fact is that we saw a big reduction in knife crime and violence in general during the pandemic and I think the police are still trying to work out what has happened since then.
“Have we seen a real increase in violent crime or are we just coming to a new normal?”
The victims’ commissioner Dame Vera Baird agreed delays could see more criminals at large and more victims dropping out of cases.
She said: “If the courts are at a complete standstill and you cannot remand people in custody due to rules on time limits, then the risk is – people who should have been in court, remain on the streets on bail,” she said, noting that 60 to 70 per cent of defendants were subsequently convicted.
“There must be a risk of more repeat crime. It could be knife crime. It could be anything, but it is going to be a relatively serious crime. We know very well that a large percentage of crime is due to repeat offending particularly in burglary but also in violence.”
Nearly 2,300 members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) voted on Monday by a near 80% majority in favour of indefinite, uninterrupted strike action from September 5, timed to coincide with the day the new prime minister takes over.
A permanent strike by criminal defence specialist lawyers will mean that most Crown Court trials in England and Wales will have to be postponed or could collapse, in some cases as witnesses drop out owing to long delays.
The CBA is seeking a 25% increase in their legal aid fees, claiming that rates have effectively fallen by 28 per cent over the past decade where, after expenses are taken into account, some junior barristers earn less than the national minimum wage. The starting wage for a junior is just £12,800.
Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, said the lawyers are “holding justice to ransom” and insisted it will cause “untold anguish” to victims.
He told the Daily Mail: “Leaders of the CBA are now holding justice to ransom – threatening the progress we’ve achieved, causing untold anguish for victims, and preventing the innocent from clearing their names.”
The Deputy Prime Minister added that the actions of the CBA were increasing the court backlog and hampering efforts to drive down crime.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has offered a 15% fee rise from September, which they say will mean the average barrister will earn £7,000 more per year. Barristers do not get paid until the conclusion of the case.
Downing Street said the strike was a “disappointing decision” that would “force victims to wait longer for justice” and urged the CBA to rethink its plans. Sarah Dines, the Justice Minister, said it was an “irresponsible” decision that would see “more victims face further delays and distress”.