Working to make government more effective


The criminal justice system: How government reforms and coronavirus will affect policing, courts and prisons

The UK criminal justice system is facing unprecedented court case backlogs and record prisoner numbers.

The Statue of Justice on the Old Bailey

The UK criminal justice system is facing unprecedented court case backlogs and record prisoner numbers.

These joint pressures will be the result of delays to court hearings caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and the government’s plan to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers leading to an increase in the number of people facing criminal charges.

Published in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, this report calculates that the prison population could rise to up to 90,000 – its highest-ever level – and possibly over 95,000 by 2023/24.

Prisons in England and Wales are already close to capacity, with cases of violence and self-harm increasing sharply over the last decade. The government’s pledge to provide 10,000 additional prison places is unlikely to be ready to meet the predicted rise in prisoner numbers, while an extra £250m a year of spending would be required just to maintain current levels of performance in prisons.

At the same time, the coronavirus lockdown has seen courtrooms closed for all but a small number of priority cases and jury trials are suspended altogether. This research shows that waiting times to hear cases could increase by more than 70% in the event of a six-month lockdown, with many defendants and victims forced to wait more than half a year for trials in the crown court.

This would result in the highest average waiting time ever recorded. To resolve this case backlog, the report calculates that the government would need to spend an extra £55m–110m a year for two years to run the necessary extra trials.

Institute for Government

Related content

05 NOV 2019 Report

Performance Tracker 2019

Performance Tracker 2019 projects the demand and spending on nine public services for the next five years.

19 MAR 2024 Hybrid event
19 March 2024

How can government tackle fraud?

Join Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP and Scam Interceptors' Nick Stapleton as we discuss what ways government can tackle fraud.