Domestic violence prosecutions 'under threat due to court delays'

Domestic violence cases could be lost due to chronic delays in the country's courts system, the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police has warned.

West Midlands Police Chief Constable Sir David Thompson
West Midlands Police Chief Constable Sir David Thompson

Sir David Thompson said court delays posed "one of the biggest post-Covid challenges we face as a country" after it emerged the criminal justice system was dealing with the biggest case backlog on record.

And Sir David said there was a particular concern over domestic violence cases, which have risen by 40 per cent over the last year.

He said delays in getting cases into courts had increased the chances of vulnerable victims dropping out of prosecutions.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Simon Foster has called for dedicated domestic abuse courts to be set up to "speed up the process".

At Wolverhampton, Stafford and Birmingham crown courts at the end of March there were nearly 3,800 outstanding cases, including 966 that involved allegations of serious violence.

Sir David told the PCC's strategic board meeting that the longer cases were held "pending court" the greater the chance that victims would "not have the confidence to continue".

He said that while he expected magistrates courts to start to recover over the next few months, there was a "bigger challenge" with crown courts.

Sir David said the force had brought in a witness care strategy to support vulnerable victims, and was undertaking monthly case review lists with the courts service to make sure they were being prioritised.

He said the Nightingale courts had helped, along with additional training for officers involved in domestic abuse cases.

"That's the group where there is a large concern that we will lose cases," he added.

Mr Foster has called on the Ministry of Justice to introduce dedicated domestic abuse courts to address delays and "speed up the process" of justice.

"The police are doing all they can to support the criminal justice system, but ultimately the Government needs to put a robust plan in place to clear the court backlog," he said.

"Justice delayed is justice denied, whether that be in relation to victims, witnesses or alleged perpetrators.

"These extreme delays place serious pressures on the viability of cases and can even cause cases to collapse with serious criminals going free.

"The Government needs to get a grip."

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