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Offences against Children: Criminal Proceedings

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN 128259, tabled on 23 February 2022

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what steps she is taking to ensure that child abuse claims are dealt with in a timely fashion within the criminal justice system.

Answered on

4 March 2022

Child sexual abuse cases are some of the most challenging, complex and sensitive cases. They are dealt with by specially trained prosecutors, working closely with the police to build the strongest possible cases that meet the legal test.

In 2020-2021 there were 6,402 prosecutions for cases classified as child abuse. In the same period the conviction rate was 85.6%, an increase of 2.7% on the previous year.

Listing and prioritisation is a judicial function and judges continue to work to prioritise cases involving vulnerable complainants and witnesses (including youth cases), domestic abuse and serious sex cases. The most effective method to ensure that child abuse cases are dealt with in a timely fashion once they get to court is to expand our capacity, so that all cases requiring jury trial can be heard swiftly. To achieve this, among various other measures, we removed the limit on the number of days the Crown Court can sit in the 21/22 financial year, and equipped over 70 per cent of all courtrooms with the video hardware to use Cloud Video Platform, which enabled up to 20,000 cases to be heard virtually each week at the height of the pandemic. These measures are working. The caseload in the Crown Court has reduced from around 61,000 cases in June 2021 to around 58,400 cases at the end of December 2021.

Looking ahead, we will be investing £477 million in the Criminal Justice System to improve waiting times for victims and to reduce the Crown Court backlogs caused by the pandemic from 60,000 cases today to an estimated 53,000 cases by March 2025. We are also extending magistrates’ court sentencing powers from 6 to 12 months for a single Triable Either Way offence to allow more cases to be heard in the magistrates' court. As a result of these measures, in the next financial year we expect to get through 20% more Crown Court cases than we did pre-Covid (116,700 in 22/23 compared to 97,000 in 19/20).

Having the right data across the criminal justice system is also crucial to recovery. Working with our partners across the justice system, we have published criminal justice scorecards which bring together data on key areas of performance, including timeliness. The national CJS scorecards for all-crime and recorded adult rape, published in December 2021, can be found here: https://data.justice.gov.uk/cjs-scorecard-all-crime