Nearly 200 'very old' rape case trials could begin by end of July after years of delays

Nearly 200 "very old" rape cases could be brought to trial by the end of July, a senior judge has announced.

Lord Justice Edis, senior presiding judge for England and Wales, has 181 cases in his sights, some of which are retrials and some involve alleged victims who are children.

The cases have been at crown courts across England and Wales since 2021, a delay that is "an unacceptable state of affairs from the point of view of the complainants, the witnesses, the defendants, and justice generally", the judge said.

He added: "The system suffered some shocks over the last four years because of the pandemic, we didn't used to have this problem, and the current situation is the product of those shocks."

There were 3,355 rape cases awaiting trial as of January, with about 6% of those classed as "very old", Lord Justice Edis said.

The Court of Appeal judge, who oversees leading crown court judges, said: "It's a small proportion of the total number of rape cases that we have to deal with that end up getting this old but, nevertheless, it's a significant injustice because the system has recovered its capacity.

"We are now in a position to make some choices. We are not in a hand-to-mouth crisis now."

Labour's shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood welcomed the "significant intervention" but added: "It's ultimately the responsibility of government to ensure a functional criminal justice system, and their abysmal failure has led to a record backlog of cases.

"It should not fall to judges to ensure that rape victims do not wait for years to have their cases heard."

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The news comes following a Criminal Bar Association survey showing more than 60% of barristers approved to conduct rape and serious sexual offences cases said they would not reapply to the specialist list to continue.

Commenting on this, Lord Justice Edis said: "Our system requires a substantial supply of skilled and experienced advocates in all our offence categories, but nowhere more than in rape and other serious sexual offences.

"If that supply is threatened, for whatever reason, our capacity to deal with the work is inhibited and that is a significant limiting factor.

"We hope that there will be work done, investment made in the long-term, in order to sustain that necessary supply of skilled people working in the system.

"They are a very valuable asset and it's disappointing to read that survey, but I hope that that survey can be the start of efforts to put the situation right, because we can't run the system without advocates."