12% fall in cases dealt with by courts as dangerous criminals spared jail due to backlogs

12 Oct 2023
  • 200,000 fewer cases are being disposed of by courts than prior to the pandemic - a fall of 12%

  • The number of prisoners held on remand has reached a record level of over 15,000 - 70% higher than in 2019

The Liberal Democrats have accused the Conservatives of failing victims of crime as their inability to get to grips with court backlogs has plunged our prison system into crisis and could see sex offenders and burglars temporarily spared prison. 

The disturbing news comes as the government has failed to clear the court backlogs and handle rising demands effectively. Only 1.3 million cases were disposed of in magistrates' and Crown courts in 2022, compared to 1.5 million in 2019. 

The number of prisoners being held on remand has also reached a record high. As of June 2023, there were 15,523 prisoners being held on remand in England and Wales - up nearly 70% from the same time period in 2019.

Prisoners can be held in custody on remand whilst they await trial and sentencing. This is usually meant to be for a period of six months, but rising court backlogs means that individuals can be held on remand for much longer than that in practice.

All this has led to a situation where the capacity of the prison estate has been reached,  meaning sentencing for dangerous criminals has to be delayed and sex offenders and burglars could be temporarily spared jail.

Liberal Democrats are calling on the Justice Secretary to finally get a grip on prison overcrowding and ensure that no dangerous criminals are spared from prison.

The party is also calling to halve the time from offence to sentencing for all criminals, while implementing extra Nightingale courtrooms to increase capacity and tackle the backlog.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael MP said:

“Alex Chalk has only been in the job for 6 months and he has already overseen a prisoner escape. Now, dangerous criminals are being spared jail because of his Conservative party’s catastrophic failure to get to grips with the court backlogs. 

“Far from keeping our streets safe, this Conservative government has completely lost control of them. 

“Ministers have buried their heads in the sand for far too long when it comes to clearing the courts backlogs - and we are now seeing the consequences.

“It’s time for the Justice Secretary to stop sleepwalking into yet another prison crisis. He must get serious about clearing the courts backlog, to bring justice to victims and tackle prison overcrowding, once and for all.”


Notes to Editor: 

As of June 2023, there were 15,523 prisoners being held on remand in England and Wales. As of June 2019, there were 9,145 prisoners being held on remand in England and Wales. More details on remand populations can be found here.

In 2022, 1,267,184 cases were disposed of in magistrates’ courts and 91,664 were disposed of in Crown courts. In 2019, 1,441,903 cases were disposed of in magistrates’ courts and 99,630 were disposed of in Crown courts. Full data on case disposals can be found here.




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