By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
A police chief says a new crown court is needed in Kent to address a backlog of more than 2,000 cases in the county.
Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott says a “long-term solution” is needed to improve the running of the county’s justice system.
He has written to Boris Johnson’s Conservative government calling for a new crown court to be introduced in the county to help with the huge backlog.
The coronavirus pandemic added to the pressures already on the court system as jury trials were suspended and courts had to cope with staff shortages. Some trials and hearings face delays until 2023, it was revealed two months ago.
There are crown courts in Maidstone and Canterbury and latest government figures show that the total number of outstanding court cases in Kent is 2,064.
This marks a fall of 5% between October and December 2021, with more cases being seen as restrictions ease from the pandemic and capacity is expanded.
Mr Scott, who has been in office since 2016 and oversees criminal justice in the county, said: “We are on a long-term trajectory to try and get our backlog down to pre-pandemic levels.”
He added: “I think the long term solution is an extra crown court in Kent.”
His comments were made during a public meeting in County Hall, Maidstone, on Wednesday (February 2).
Several Kent MPs have lobbied for more changes, including Sevenoaks MP Laura Trott, Ashford MP Damian Green and Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “The crown court backlog in Kent has fallen in recent months. We have a package of measures in place to restore the swift access to justice victims deserve.
“This includes new Nightingale courtrooms, increased sentencing powers for magistrates and almost half a billion being invested to drive recovery in the courts.”
The Ministry says 60 Nightingale courtrooms have been set up across England to increase capacity to ensure more trials can be heard during the pandemic.
Kent has secured an extension to its Nightingale courtroom to provide more relief in dealing with non-custodial and bail matters for another 18 months.
The MOJ says £477million is being invested into the UK’s criminal justice system to increase capacity and reduce waiting times for a national backlog of 58,728 cases, according to Whitehall data from November 2021.
It has been described as the largest funding rise for more than a decade.
The UK government has introduced other temporary stop gaps, which include increasing the sentencing powers of magistrates, which is relieving some of the strain on the crown courts.