Bradford Crown Court’s growing backlog of cases is down to years of chronic underfunding as well as the coronavirus pandemic, a leading local barrister said today.

Stephen Wood QC, head of the city’s Broadway House Chambers Criminal Team, was responding to news that the crown court had 920 outstanding cases at the end of December.

This was an increase of 6.2% from the end of September and 27.1% at the end of 2019, when there were 724.

A Parliamentary report has warned that the pandemic has left the courts system in England and Wales in crisis with a backlog of cases that will take years to clear.

The Lords Constitution Committee has urged the Government to set out urgent plans, including new funding, to stop public confidence in the justice system being undermined.

But Mr Wood told the Telegraph & Argus it was misleading to suggest that the Covid-19 national emergency was solely responsible for creating the backlog.

“Obviously, it has contributed significantly but it is easy to forget that before jury trials were halted on March 20, 2020, there was already a significant backlog.

“The whole backlog is a product of chronic underfunding of the courts, the Crown Prosecution Service and police. For example, Bradford Crown Court has eight courtrooms; prior to the pandemic it was not unusual for the courts to be running at up to 50% capacity.

“All this means delay which caused additional anxiety for victims, witnesses and defendants and the risk of very serious injustices occurring.

“I know that The Recorder of Bradford and the other judges and court staff at Bradford, and indeed across the North Eastern Circuit, have been doing everything they can to alleviate the backlog but it does seem as if the position they face is rather like trying to put out a fire; being given a hose by the Government, but being told that the water will not be turned on fully,” Mr Wood said. Ministry of Justice figures show that across England and Wales the number of outstanding crown court cases swelled to 56,827 in December, up 11% compared to September and 49% higher than the same point the previous year.

However, the number of concluded cases in December was close to pre-pandemic levels as courts get closer to being able to clear the national backlog.

The figures show that 441 cases were concluded at Bradford Crown Court between October and December following a trial or sentencing hearing.

That was a rise of 23.2% on the 358 cases dealt with between July and September. Between October and December 2019, 387 cases were concluded.

Last month, the watchdog for the Crown Prosecution Service warned that the caseload for prosecutors nationally is increasing at an alarming rate and this could have “major consequences” for victims and witnesses.

Meanwhile, some lawyers have said they are already seeing trials being listed for 2023.

Bar Council chairman, Derek Sweeting QC, said: “With an end to social distancing in sight, the Government needs to seize the opportunity to allow the courts to deal with as many cases as possible by investing in more court capacity, more court staff and ade-quate sitting days.”

Dame Vera Baird, the Victim's Commissioner, said victim hubs were under increasing pressure due to delays in the justice system.

"They are carrying higher caseloads as victims remain in the justice system for longer.

"Hub staff are also having to work harder to persuade victims not to withdraw from supporting the prosecution as a result of delays,” she said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: "We are spending £450 million to deliver speedier justice for victims and this is already having an impact – outstanding magis-trates’ cases have fallen by 50,000 since last summer and crown court cases reached pre-Covid levels in December.

“More jury trials are being heard every week, with video hearings and new Nightingale courts boosting capacity while we invest record amounts in victim support.”