Rape victims are having to wait up to four years to go to court as the pandemic backlog pushes trials back to 2023, The Telegraph can disclose.
Victim Support revealed it is helping victims of rape and sexual assault who have been waiting between two and four years to give evidence against their attacker in a trial.
The charity warned it was not only adding to the emotional stress for victims having to live with the uncertainty before reliving their attack in court, but also increasing the risk of them dropping out from frustration, or witnesses giving weaker evidence due to fading memories.
“If cases are continually delayed, then some victims will say: ‘Is this worth it? Is it worth putting my life on hold for?’” said Alex Mayes, of Victim Support.
One woman who was sexually assaulted has been given a court date later this year, which will mean it will be just under four years she has had to wait since first reporting the attack to police, said the charity.
Another woman, who reported her rape in 2019, has just been told that her case has been put back until January 2023.
It is not just sexual assaults but also domestic violence cases that are being delayed. In a letter to Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, one such victim described how her case had been rescheduled three times and would not now be heard until March 2022, two years and nine months after the incident.
“I get that we are living in unprecedented times with regards to the current global situation, but I feel these decisions have not been made with me, the victim of a serious crime, in mind,” she wrote.
“I have been left out in the cold by the judicial system and quite frankly I am at both emotional and physical breaking point, a point where I feel a victim should never be.
“Throughout this alien process the mere thought of having to attend court in itself has caused me an immense amount of anxiety, resulting in me having to be prescribed medication to reduce the physical symptoms of stress.
“Not to mention the fact I know that at some point I am going to have to talk about very traumatic events, experiences I do not want to have to relive, experiences that cause me to have anxiety attacks. This has now been sustained for far too long.”
Rape and sexual assault helplines
Crown court backlogs have risen to more than 53,000, prompting the four criminal justice chief inspectors to warn that further urgent action is needed by the Government to avert long term damage to public trust in a system that is now in a “critical” state.
Mr Mayes said: “Long delays in the court process can cause significant distress and anxiety. Victims feel they can’t move on from the crime if they are waiting two, three or even four years. That’s a long time to live with the impact of the crime and a long time to have a court case waiting over them.
“Court is a stressful experience where they have to live through the crime again in what is sometimes an intimidating environment.”
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it had invested £450 million to help reduce the backlog, including extra video technology, 18 Nightingale courts, self-distancing measures and PPE and plans for “shifts” in courtrooms to increase capacity.