MPs are today warning that the country's criminal justice system is "close to breaking point", with many witnesses disheartened and victims facing a "postcode lottery".
In its most recent report, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) slams the Ministry of Justice for being too slow to recognise that the system is under serious strain and that those seeking justice cannot afford to wait the four years that is expected for the department's reform programme to fully take shape.
"An effective criminal justice system is a cornerstone of civil society but ours is at risk," said Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC.
The system is overstretched and disjointed. Victims of crime are entitled to justice yet they are at the mercy of a postcode lottery for access to that justice. About two-thirds of Crown Court trials are delayed or do not go ahead at all and only 55 per cent of those who have been a witness say they would be prepared to do so again. These are damning statistics.
According to the PAC report, more than 50,000 cases were waiting a hearing at a crown court as at September 2015.
In light of its findings, the PAC is calling on the Criminal Justice Board – a cross-governmental group which is chaired by the justice secretary Michael Gove – to set out a plan for what it will do to better coordinate the players in the justice system to be published by the end of the year.
The PAC also calls for a timetable for sharing good practice nationally as well as bringing the worst-performing areas up to scratch to be published.
"The government has dragged its heels in addressing these problems. The Ministry is now seeking to reform the system but there is more action it can take immediately to benefit struggling regions, and therefore taxpayers," said Hillier, before adding that her committee would be holding government to account on these matters.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said it welcomed the report and would reflect its recommendations, adding:
The Justice Secretary has been clear that our criminal justice system needs urgent reform. That is why we have embarked on comprehensive measures to improve our prisons and courts, backed by over £2bn of investment, to build a swifter, more certain justice system.