Background to the report 

In December 2023, the Crown Court backlog reached its highest ever level, exceeding the level reached during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ), headed by the Lord Chancellor, is accountable to Parliament for the efficient and effective functioning of the courts. One of its three priorities is to deliver swift access to justice.

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His Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), an executive agency of the MoJ, provides the system of support, including infrastructure and resources, for administering criminal, civil and family courts in England and Wales, and tribunals nationally. The judiciary, headed by the Lady Chief Justice, is constitutionally independent from government.

Scope of the report 

We undertook this investigation in response to the Crown Court backlog reaching its highest ever level. This report describes what action the MoJ, HMCTS and other parts of the criminal justice system have taken to address the backlog of cases in the Crown Court.  

It examines:  

  • the scale, nature and impact of the Crown Court backlog 
  • the MoJ’s and HMCTS’s understanding of the impact of actions to reduce the Crown Court backlog  
  • how the MoJ and HMCTS are attempting to manage the Crown Court backlog 


The rise in the Crown Court backlog to its highest ever level can only have exacerbated the negative effects that waiting longer can have on victims, witnesses, and defendants. Lengthening cases can also add to the cost of administering justice.  

More accurate projections by the MoJ of the flow of cases to the Crown Court, including assessing the impact of changes elsewhere in the criminal justice system, would better support it to manage the Crown Court backlog.  

The MoJ must work closely with the other parts of the system to gather intelligence, understand how changes in policy and activity in one part of the system will affect other parts, and take coordinated and timely action in response.  

The Criminal Justice Board (CJB) has recently reconvened after an absence of two years over which the backlog rose further. The CJB must use its strategic oversight of the criminal justice system to support the MoJ to improve the efficiency of the court process and reduce the backlog. It should consider how resilience and agility can be established within the system to ensure cases are not unduly held up, to the detriment of all participants, as they progress through the Crown Court. 


Publication details

Press release

View press release (24 May 2024)

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