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NPCC warns new government that justice system is in a 'critical state'

The ailing criminal justice system was the 'real issue' Martin Hewitt raised during meetings with the new government, particularly with the new Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

The Chairman of the National Police Chiefs' Council has told the government that the criminal justice system is in a "critical state", with a range of issues combining to create unprecedented levels of backlog.

Speaking at the second day of the Emergency Services Show in Birmingham, Martin Hewitt said he had conveyed the seriousness of this issue during a recent meeting with members of the newly-formed Cabinet. 

"The real issue that I raised, particularly with the Home Secretary (Suella Braverman), was the justice system...If someone is charged with a crime today, they'll be lucky to get a trial by 2024."

According to Mr Hewitt, this is a consequence of already-existing backlog issues being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which he admitted would knock any sector "on its side".

A report from the Committee of Public Accounts (CPC) - published in March - showed that the number of Crown Court cases waiting to be resolved nearly doubled between March 2019 and September 2021.

This number shot up from 33,290 to 59,928 cases between those two dates, with the latest figures suggesting that this number now stands at almost 60,000.

Ongoing barrister strikes is another issue. Former Justice Secretary Dominic Raab was unable to resolve a dispute over pay for legal aid work, with this now the task of his successor, Brandon Lewis.

Mr Lewis said "constructive" talks have been held with the Criminal Bar Association and the Bar Council in recent days, but there is no resolution as of yet.

Court closures have also proven problematic. The Ministry of Justice has previously confirmed that a total of 244 courts and tribunals have been closed since 2010, though plans for 77 further closures won't now proceed due to the backlog in cases..

These issues have created a system Mr Hewitt believes is in "an even more critical state at the moment". "I don't think it's in an acceptable place," he added.

Describing his interactions with the new Cabinet members as "positive", Mr Hewitt told the event there was a real focus on the upcoming General Election. 'We've only got two years' was the overriding sentiment, he said.

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