Sex offence case delays at Ipswich Crown Court second worst in country

Sex offence cases take an average of 13-and-a-half months at Ipswich Crown Court, new data has revealed.

Sex offence cases take an average of 13-and-a-half months at Ipswich Crown Court, new data has revealed. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

A lack of judges and the pandemic have been blamed for the fact sex offence cases take an average of 13-and-a-half months from start to finish at Ipswich Crown Court.

According to data uncovered by the BBC, it takes 414 days on average between the opening and closing of sexual offence cases at Suffolk's only crown court. This makes Ipswich the second slowest crown court in the country.

Nationally, the average case length was 266 days – or nine months.

Justice secretary Dominic Raab said the delays were due to the pandemic, others blame a lack of judges, underfunding and a shortage of court staff.

Tim Passmore, Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner, said the current situation was not good enough for victims and called for a Royal Commission to examine the workings of the justice system.

Tim Passmore, Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner

Tim Passmore, Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

He said: "We need a criminal justice system that's fit for purpose in Suffolk just like anywhere else and at the moment it's under huge strain."

Mr Passmore said a shortage of judges at Ipswich Crown Court was "a major contributor" to the problem, but he also highlighted a shortage of clerks and other court staff.

He added that lengthy trials took up significant amounts of police time, preventing officers from fulfilling other duties.

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Matthew Gowen, a partner and barrister at Ipswich-based law firm Birketts, cited a lack of judges and said: "There have been restrictions on the number of days that judges are able to sit – for financial reasons. That’s why, if you check the crown court lists on a daily basis you will see many courtrooms not sitting.

Matthew Gowen, a partner and barrister at Ipswich-based law firm Birketts

Matthew Gowen, a partner and barrister at Ipswich-based law firm Birketts - Credit: Carl Middleditch/Bushfire Photography

"Those courts that do sit have an increasing problem of a lack of advocates (prosecution and defence) to conduct the cases – a large number of advocates are leaving the Bar, as a result of continuing issues regarding legal-aid fee rates and pressure of work.

"Advocates that are involved in sexual offence cases also have to be trained. Some choose not to do that type of work due to the emotional toll that cases can have on advocates.

"The current action that is being taken by the criminal bar will further impact upon delays. Victims, witnesses and defendants will have to wait even longer for the cases to be heard."

Justice minister Dominic Raab said: "I know that it's very difficult for anyone that's been a victim of rape or serious sexual violence.

Picture: Justice secretary Dominic Raab touring a category C prison.

Justice secretary Dominic Raab blamed current court delays on the pandemic. Picture: Justice secretary Dominic Raab touring a category C prison. - Credit: PA

"You recover from the original crime – and then you've got to muster the courage to go through the [courts] process. I'm absolutely committed to making sure those victims have the support at every step of the way."