The backlog of criminal cases waiting to be dealt with by crown courts in England and Wales has hit its highest level in a year.
The latest Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show there were 56,544 outstanding crown court cases at the end of January, up from 55,676 in December.
This is compared with 38,411 a year earlier, before the coronavirus pandemic took hold and courts were initially forced to shut as the country went into lockdown.
Overall, the backlog of criminal cases has fallen from a total of 455,374 in December to 441,791 in January.
This reflects a drop in the number of outstanding magistrates court cases, from 399,698 in December to 385,247 in January.
But the total still remains more than 80,000 higher than in January 2020.
The figures come after the findings of a poll carried out for legal bodies the Law Society of England and Wales, the Bar Council and The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives suggested the majority of the public were worried about the backlog.
Earlier this week inspectors also warned the caseload for prosecutors was increasing at an “alarming rate” and could have “major consequences” for victims and witnesses.
The latest inspection by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) said delays in cases coming to court affect “the ability of victims, witnesses and defendants to recollect the events and can impact on their willingness to attend court to give evidence”.
Meanwhile some lawyers have said they are already seeing trials being listed for 2023.
The Government has said it is investing £450 million to “boost recovery in the courts and deliver swifter justice”, insisting this is “already yielding results”.
More than 20 Nightingale courts have now opened – with more expected soon – in a bid to boost capacity while proceedings need more space amid social distancing measures and it is hoped this will help clear the backlog.
In June, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said he hoped to clear the backlog of court cases exacerbated by the pandemic by Easter this year. More recently he has expressed hope the number of outstanding cases could be brought back to acceptable levels before Easter 2023.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge to our criminal courts, but hard-working staff and professionals have strained every sinew to continue to deliver justice for victims.
“Major challenges remain which is why we are spending hundreds of millions to drive the recovery further, deliver swifter justice and support victims.”