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Victims of child sexual abuse face growing court delays as waiting times increase

15 Dec 2023 5 minute read
New data from the Ministry of Justice shows a record high.

Victims of child sexual abuse are facing lengthening delays for their case to reach the courts due to UK Government failures to address a backlog of court cases, a children’s charity has warned.

New data from the Ministry of Justice shows a record high with the average number of days between a defendant in child sexual abuse cases in Wales and England being charged and the criminal trial starting increasing by 55% in the last five years, from 273 days in 2017 – 2018 to 423 days in 2022/2023.

This means that of the 5,513 outstanding child sexual abuse cases going through the crown courts this year, a 16% increase on the previous year, victims will wait on average almost 14 months before their case even goes to trial.

The NSPCC has warned that for a child already experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts or PTSD as a consequence of sexual abuse, the drawn-out process of waiting for a trial to start can be extremely distressing.

Earlier this year, the NSPCC revealed that only 23% of local authorities say they offer specialised support for children in the form of independent and specially trained advisors to support children and help them recover from abuse.


One girl who contacted Childline said: “I have a court case next month and I’m so scared. I don’t want to see the man who attacked me.

“I do have a social worker, but I don’t feel supported and I’m worried that if I tell them everything that I’m feeling that they might stop the court case. If I’m too scared to see him, what if I can’t speak in court and this has all been for nothing”.

The NSPCC coordinates a coalition of leading children’s charities committed to protecting children and strengthening the criminal justice response.

Together, NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Action for Children, The Children’s Society and the National Youth Advocacy Service urge the UK Government to use the opportunity afforded by the Bill to create a child-centred, sufficiently resourced and accountable justice system.

This can be achieved through amendments to the Victims and Prisoners Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament.

Ahead of the Bill’s second reading in the House of Lords on Monday 18 December, the children’s charities want to see a commitment to improving support for children experiencing abuse and exploitation including providing sufficient and specific support to child victims as they go through the court process.


In addition, the NSPCC is calling on the UK Government to overhaul the criminal justice system, provide significant investment to address the current backlogs in the court, and fast-track cases involving young witnesses and victims.

The charity believes action is urgently needed because of the impact on children and young people.

Poppy, now 19, was sexually abused by her grandfather and disclosed her abuse age 11. It took 18 months for her case to reach trial and 5 months for her to receive counselling.

Now, Poppy and her mum Miranda want there to be more support available for child victims earlier on in the court process.

Poppy said: “It was two years until my case came to trial which had a huge impact on me. I have blocked a lot of it out. It was strange going into court knowing it was the day. I was so desperate to fight my own corner and there was a good amount of anger behind me on that day. Telling my side of the story was incredibly important.

“I want all children who have gone through this to get the counselling they need and the support they deserve. It took five months for me to get my first counselling session after I disclosed the abuse, but the wait is so much longer now.”

Miranda added: “It was incredibly difficult for our whole family to watch Poppy go through the court process but the one-to-one counselling we received became a vital support, enabling us to cope effectively. It is unthinkable that some children do not get the same access to services that can help build their resilience and help them move on with their lives.”


Clare Kelly, Associate Head of Policy & Public Affairs at the NSPCC said: “Going through the criminal justice system can be a painful process for children who have experienced abuse. This can be made worse by consistent delays which leave children in limbo, without access to support designed for them to support their recovery.

“Year on year we see court waiting times increase as the courts continue to battle a backlog of child sexual abuse cases. This has been a problem well before the pandemic but has been exacerbated by various lockdowns and court closures over the last five years.

“The Government have said they are committed to supporting victims of child sexual abuse but they must follow through by taking action on these long, distressing court waiting times. This could be achieved partly through the Victims and Prisoners Bill by enshrining a commitment to upholding children’s rights as victims as they go through the courts.

“However, to turn this deteriorating situation around, the Government must also invest in the criminal justice system to ensure these cases are progressed by police

and prosecutors, young witnesses have support to give their evidence and their cases are heard by courts as speedily and effectively as possible”.

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