The Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill QC, has said the coronavirus pandemic presents an opportunity as well as a challenge to the criminal justice system.
The CPS has seen an 80 percent increase in its trial backlog with 179,000 cases backed up and some defendants being told they will not face trial until 2022.
In a speech at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, Mr Hill said: “As we move through the coronavirus crisis, there is a feeling across society that we are at something of a turning point. We have lost a lot - many of us have been bereaved. Isolation and disconnection have made this a lonely time for many."
He said the criminal justice system was facing an “inevitable backlog of cases” and would not return to anything near “normal” for a long time.
But he said: "In all this challenge, there is also opportunity. And I am confident that the ways of working that have served us during the pandemic will continue to serve us as we navigate its aftermath."
He said investment in digital capabilities allowed staff to continue essential work with “minimal disruption” when lockdown began.
The courts introduced new Cloud Video Platform software and there had been over 30,000 hearings using CVP.
As we mark Emergency Services #999Day I’m pleased to note that more than 28,000 offences of assaults on emergency workers have now been prosecuted since the law changed to make it a specific offence. These deplorable attacks will be met with the full force of the law.— Max Hill (@MaxHillQC) September 9, 2020
Mr Hill highlighted the CPS’s successful prosecution of 300 people for assaults on emergency workers during the first month of lockdown.
He said: “These cowardly attacks usually involved police officers and other emergency workers being coughed at and spat on by members of the public claiming to have the virus.”
One of Mr Hill’s predecessors, Sir Keir Starmer, is now the leader of the opposition Labour Party. But Mr Hill told The Times newspaper in an interview on Thursday, 17 September, he has a “clear and constructive relationship” with the Attorney General, Suella Braverman.
Ahead of the event, Max Hill QC talks to The Times about his role and that of the CPS: https://t.co/uxuFREy87c (£)— CPS (@cpsuk) September 17, 2020
Ms Braverman, a Conservative MP who supported Boris Johnson when he ran for the leadership of the party, was criticised earlier this year when she tweeted support for Dominic Cummings while police were still investigating him for an alleged breach of the coronavirus laws.
Mr Hill declined to comment on that incident but he insisted the CPS was independent of government and must never be influenced by politicians when deciding whether to prosecute cases.
He said: “Our role in court is to represent the public interest. Yes, we make a case against a defendant. Yes, we absolutely support victims and witnesses. But we do not represent any individual or group. We represent the public interest, which is for justice to be served.”
It comes as the CPS decided not to seek a retrial in the case of Ceon Broughton, whose conviction for manslaughter was overturned earlier this year. Broughton gave his girlfriend drugs at a music festival and then filmed her as she died.