The former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, Peter Fahy, has claimed the ‘huge backlog’ of court cases is the reason less knife crime offenders are being jailed. This is despite the fact crimes involving knives and other offensive weapons have increased by 5% in England and Wales over the last 12 months.
The backlog of cases currently stands at 60,000. Mr Fahy feels this worrying number could be persuading judges to give suspended sentences rather than jail time.
He is also concerned that as it “takes years to get people to court”, the way the police go about their duties could also be negatively impacted if they repeatedly see those they arrest repeatedly making bail before beginning increasingly long waits for their court appearances.
Mr Fahy suggested this may be a good time to replicate some of the initiatives used to reduce gun crime in Manchester in the late 90s and early 2000s. These include:
“Really good youth projects, things like boxing clubs, working with schools and church groups and other agencies.”
Mr Fahy’s comments come in the aftermath of the knife attack that recently killed Rico Burton, cousin of world heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury, in Altrincham, Greater Manchester.
While Mr Burton’s death has hit the headlines, it is only one of the 19,555 cases involving knives recorded in England and Wales in 2022. This is admittedly a slight decrease on the 22,183 recorded in 2019 before figures were suspended due to the COVID pandemic.
What are the current knife crime offender trends?
67% of the offences recorded involved the possession of an ‘article with a blade or point’ and possession offences are particularly prevalent among the young. 3,373 of the 3,490 of knife crimes committed by 10-17 years were possession related.
In terms of geography, the highest levels of knife crime were reported in Cleveland and Nottinghamshire. The lowest levels were recorded in Surrey and Gloucestershire.
However, despite the overall increase in offences, the number of offenders jailed has dropped while the number of suspended sentences being meted out rose.
This could, as Mr Fahy has suggested, be because of the backlog that has been caused by the effects of the pandemic.
The courts have undeniably been affected by COVID. Firstly, they were – as public buildings – forced to close with many hearings moving online. Then when they reopened, a raft of operational issues made it difficult for the courts to get back to where it wanted to be.
Although Mr Fahy has voiced his concern over the “lack of capacity in the court system” and the increased risk of reoffending a less jail time could cause, the Ministry of Justice has responded by saying there is no evidence to support his claims.
An MoJ spokesperson said:
“Judges can remand any individual they believe poses a risk to the public. Our actions have already brought the pandemic-induced backlog down by 2,000 cases in a year.”
The spokesperson added £500 million was being invested to speed up trials and actively reduce the backlog.