Simon Foster, the Labour commissioner for West Midlands Police, said the coronavirus pandemic had exacerbated a decade of underfunding and “reckless neglect” of the justice system.
Ministry of Justice figures show that towards the end of April more than 57,000 crown court cases were outstanding amid delays and court closures stemming from the pandemic.
Mr Foster said the prosecution of domestic abuse and rape cases was most at risk from the growing backlog, largely due to the difficulties of sustaining long delays to trials involving vulnerable people.
His comments have been echoed by North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Philip Allott who has pledged to make a case to the Home and Justice Secretaries that urgent action needs to be taken to reduce the backlog.
Mr Allott said: “Rape and domestic violence cases already have some of the lowest conviction rates and the backlog of court cases, while a serious concern for every offence, is acutely so for these crimes. Victims already all too often feel let down by the criminal justice system and these delays will do nothing to encourage them to report what has happened or be confident perpetrators will be punished for their crimes.
"The challenge, of course, is that no matter what we do here in North Yorkshire, other parts of the justice system – like courts and sentencing – are beyond our control. This is why I will be making the case to the Home and Justice Secretaries that action needs to be taken to reduce the backlog of cases, make sure punishments fit the crime, and ensure we give everyone who has been the victim of a serious crime like this the confidence they will be taken seriously and that justice will be done.”
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said a long-awaited review into rape prosecutions would soon be published which would include an “ambitious plan of action to address the way the criminal justice system responds to this sickening crime”.
In a speech to the Law Society of England and Wales, Mr Buckland promised the Government would continue to make “big decisions” including looking at extending court sitting hours and giving the system “all the support it needs to start moving at pace once again”.
Reflecting on the effect Covid-19 had on courts, he said some cases were “unavoidably delayed” but that extra funding measures such as the opening nightingale courts helped keep the justice system moving.