A system under pressureDuring the last decade, as budgets fell across all governmental departments, crime in the United Kingdom increased, putting an extra burden on the criminal justice system. Sexual offences in particular grew significantly, from just under 54 thousand at the start of the 2010s, to over 162 thousand by 2018/19. While this is partly due to the emergence of historical allegations of sexual abuse, there has also been a cultural shift in the way such crimes are handled by the justice system, with previous sexual offence figures likely only showing a fraction of actual crimes. These types of crimes are among the most serious and carry the highest average prison sentence length in England and Wales.
Due to these developments, the court responsible for serious crime cases in England and Wales, the Crown Court, has struggled with a backlog of cases, which peaked at 55 thousand in late 2014. While the Crown Court managed to reduce that number to around 33.8 thousand by the third quarter of 2019, the restrictions brought about in the Coronavirus pandemic caused these cases to increase dramatically in 2020. At the same time, it is also taking longer for trials to reach conclusion, with cases taking an average of 510 days in 2019 to go from offence to completion, compared with 392 days in 2010.