Tens of thousands of victims have been let down by ministers “dithering” over the introduction of temporary courts, Labour has claimed.
New data shows that the majority of so-called Nightingale Courts did not start hearing cases until late August, with usage as low as 70% in some temporary courts.
The backlog of crown court cases surged by more than 7,000 during the first five months of the pandemic to 46,467 serious criminal cases.
More than 517,000 cases are waiting to be dealt with by magistrates.
The backlog means families of victims face long waits to get justice, while innocent people could be left behind bars without trial or with the case hanging over their heads.
Max Hill, the Director of Public Prosecutions, recently said any backlog was “corrosive” for victims who have to wait for their day in court.
Labour blasted the Government’s “shambolic” response to the crisis in courts, which have already suffered after a decade of Tory cuts.
Hotels, town halls and even Government buildings have been turned into Nightingale Courts to help clear the backlog of cases built up due to the pandemic.
Despite promises that 200 or more additional venues would be ready to fill the gap – only 18 Nightingale Courts have been announced so far by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
And the bill for the first temporary courts will be £10m this financial year, excluding judicial costs.
Figures obtained by Labour using parliamentary questions, show venues such as Peterborough Cathedral only began operating at the start of September.
And a court in Hertfordshire, which opened on August 17, has already been mothballed.
The temporary court within the MoJ building itself at Petty France is only being used to 70% of capacity, the figures show.
Shadow Courts Minister Alex Cunningham said: “The government’s shambolic response to the crisis in our courts it helped create through a decade of cuts is letting tens of thousands of victims down.
“The Ministry of Justice’s dithering means that it can take years for victims to get their day in court.
“The government failed to listen to Labour’s warnings at the start of the pandemic that it needed to move fast to introduce temporary courts to clear the backlog.”
Griff Ferris, Legal and Policy Officer for the Fair Trials campaign, condemned the Government for blaming lack of capacity for the backlog in cases.
He told the Mirror: “This systematic underfunding caused a huge backlog of cases before the pandemic. Now some cases are not being heard until 2023.
“The Government owes it to victims, witness and defendants to do everything it can to ensure that cases are heard within a reasonable time.
“If it cannot do that, it must release more low-risk defendants held in prison while waiting for a trial.”
The MoJ has since announced new courts will open at the Lowry Theatre in Salford, the Hilton Hotel in York and Jury’s Inn in Middlesbrough.
A MOJ spokesperson said: “Our response to the pandemic has been world-leading and these additional court rooms are boosting capacity with thousands of cases being heard each day.”