The backlog of cases at the criminal courts will be a problem for ‘many years’, a watchdog warned.

The National Audit Office estimated that the number of cases waiting to be heard in England and Wales’ crown courts could be up to 27 per cent higher by November 2024 compared to before the pandemic.

The auditors, responsible for checking government departments and state agencies, praised the courts service for its response to the pandemic but warned that a longer term recovery plan ‘hinges on securing funding and resources’. The MOJ recognised that hiring enough judges to hear cases would be a ‘challenge’, the NAO said.

A government spokesman said the backlog of cases in the crown court was ‘stabilising’.

Barrister James Keeley, who in the past week has been prosecuting a rape trial at Oxford Crown Court, told the Oxford Mail that the criminal justice system was ‘facing meltdown’.

“Solutions are desperately needed. Simple and inexpensive measures could be introduced in order avert cases taking years to complete,” he added. They could include recruiting more circuit judges and increasing the amount of time off their sentences for defendants who enter early guilty pleas.

Figures released in the summer showed there were 97 outstanding cases for alleged violent attacks at Oxford Crown Court at the end of March.

That was a rise from the 67 at the same time last year, and the highest number since comparable records were first published seven years ago.

The cases were among 463 outstanding cases at Oxford Crown Court at the end of March, including 60 relating to alleged sex offences.

Derek Sweeting QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said the NAO's findings showed the criminal justice system was at 'breaking point'.

He added: "Ahead of next week's spending review, the Bar Council is calling for spending to be increased by an extra 22p per person to tackle the enormous backlog and allow the government to meet its bold ambitions around law and order whilst supporting victims of crime and reducing delays."

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

For news updates straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on or 01865 425 445.