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‘Crisis’ in barrister numbers as average wait for rape victims exceeds five years | Politics News

There is a “crisis” in the number of barristers available for rape and serious sexual offence (RASSO) cases, a new survey has shown.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said 64% of prosecutors and 66% of defence barristers will not reapply to work on RASSO court lists going forward due to the low legal aid fees they are paid and the impact on their wellbeing.

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The figures come as the average wait for a bailed rape trial to conclude from the day of an alleged offence hit around five and a half years – including an average wait of 18 months from someone being charged until the end of the trial.

The CBA said many cases were now waiting longer than 18 months, with members telling them of court dates being set for the end of 2026, despite the charges happening in 2022.

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Chair of the organisation, Tana Adkin KC, said barristers were “committed to do everything [they] can to address the backlog and continue providing the highest quality advocacy whilst ensuring the vulnerable, complainants and the accused alike are heard”.

But, she said, without “urgent intervention” from the government, the delays will only continue to grow, adding: “Our ability to deliver what government wants, what courts require and the public expects is currently unsustainable.”

More on Ministry Of Justice

According to figures from the CBA, there has been a 30% fall in income for barristers over the past 20 years, with some specialist criminal barristers taking home an average of £12,000 a year after expenses in their first three years at the bar.

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Why did barristers go on strike over fees?

Following strike action in 2022, the government increased legal aid fees by 15% – but the CBA argued this was the bare minimum recommended in an independent review of charges, and higher pay was needed to keep people in the profession, with swathes of young barristers quitting the courts.

Now, according to the survey, barristers will be walking away from RASSO cases altogether, which represent nearly 9,800 cases in the current backlog of over 66,000 in crown court – up 226% from the historic low of 3,005 at the end of 2018.

A total of six out of 10 of the 780 barristers who responded to the survey cited poor legal aid fees as the reason for refusing to take on RASSO cases in the future, while half pointed to poor well-being as a result of the challenging work.

“Doing nothing to increase RASSO fees is not an option unless we want to accept that rape and serious sexual offence trials will continue to be delayed for years, repeatedly postponed on the day because there is no barrister to prosecute or defend,” added Ms Adkin.

“The human cost for victims of these crimes as well as innocent defendants is beyond financial measure.”

Sky News has contacted the Ministry of Justice for a response.

NHS: What do the latest figures show about treatment waiting lists, hospital beds, and ambulance wait times? | UK News

NHS England’s waiting list for elective treatment fell from 7.7m in October to 7.6m in November.

That’s the smallest it’s been since June, but still far larger than it was in November 2022 (7.2m).

Despite facing the most sustained industrial action in its history, the NHS has had a relatively good winter.

A mild flu season has helped keep demand for the health service relatively low, at least partially offsetting the impact of the strikes.

As of 7 January, just 2,271 beds were rendered unavailable due to seasonal winter illnesses.

That’s less than half the figure at this time last year (5,151).

As a result, hospitals have been unusually empty for this time of year, with 91.9% of beds occupied (compared to 93.8% at the same time last year).

With more capacity, hospitals have had more space to take on elective cases and cut waiting lists.

It has also reduced some of the pressures on A&E departments. Waiting times have fallen, though they still remain well above their pre-pandemic levels.

In December, 104,000 people waited more than four hours to be admitted to A&E after the decision had been made to admit them, or 27% of all admissions.

That’s down from a record 33% of admissions in 2022, but far higher than it was in 2018 (11%).

One in every 12 admissions this December (8%, or 44,000 people) were forced to wait over 12 hours. Such waits were almost unheard of before the pandemic, affecting just 284 patients in December 2018.

Similarly, ambulance response times are better than last year, but remain above target.

The average call-out for a heart attack or stroke took 46 minutes to arrive, down from 48 minutes in December 2022 but six minutes above target.

For 10% of calls, ambulances took an hour and 41 minutes.

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of the health charity, the King’s Fund, said the figures showed the NHS was still not meeting the majority of its most important performance targets this winter.

“On some measures, the situation is better than this time last year, in part thanks to efforts to increase capacity as well as relatively low hospital admissions from COVID-19 and flu, but patients are still not receiving an acceptable level of service,” she said.

“Behind each of these figures is a person who is struggling to receive the timely care they need and deserve, despite the best efforts of staff.”

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Kate Seymour, head of advocacy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said that while the data showed a slight improvement on wait times, there were “still thousands of people in England facing agonising delays for vital cancer diagnosis and treatment”.

“Every day at Macmillan we hear how these unacceptable delays can cause needless anxiety and even result in a worse prognosis. People’s lives are being put at risk, and it’s simply not good enough,” she said.

Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins said the figures showed the progress “our fantastic NHS staff can make towards bringing waiting lists down when they don’t have to contend with industrial action”.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins. File pic

“November was the first month without industrial action for over a year, and we reduced the total waiting list by more than 95,000 – the biggest decrease since December 2010, outside of the pandemic,” she said.

“We want to put an end to damaging strikes once and for all, and if the BMA Junior Doctors Committee can demonstrate they have reasonable expectations, I will still sit down with them.”

Syrian asylum seeker attempted to take his own life during long wait for Home Office decision | Politics News

An asylum seeker who escaped to the UK after five years of torture in a Syrian prison has told Sky News he was so traumatised by the long wait for a Home Office decision on his case he attempted to take his own life. 

It comes as new government figures show there are more than 125,000 outstanding asylum claims – a slight reduction since the summer but still higher than this time last year.

Omar’s arms are riddled with 250 shotgun pellets, which causes him constant pain.

X ray showing bullet pellets
X-ray showing Omar’s arm riddled with shotgun pellets

Bullet pellets

He was fired on by the Syrian army while attending a pro-democracy demonstration in 2012.

Arrested while attempting to seek medical treatment afterwards, he was sent to prison where he said he was regularly tortured.

“They took me underground and started beating me, beating me and torturing me,” Omar said. “They had pipes, thick water pipes, and they used those pipes to beat me with.

“They knew my hands and arms were hurt already and they were deliberately hitting where my wounds were. I was blindfolded so I couldn’t see who was torturing me. They handcuffed my hands and hung me up for hours.

“You do not have a name. You’re just a number to them.”

Scars on Omar's chest
Injuries to Omar’s upper torso

We’re not using Omar’s real name or showing his face to protect his family in Syria. He managed to escape from prison after his father borrowed the money to pay a $10,000 bribe.

He fled to the UK and claimed asylum in November 2020. But the long wait for the Home Office to process his asylum claim – two years and four months – took a huge toll on his mental health. Last August, six months before the decision was finally made, he attempted to take his own life.

“I was so disappointed,” he said. “I was under the impression that Great Britain is great. And if I got to Great Britain, that I would not face injustice. But it wasn’t like that.

“For two years, they didn’t tell me they were not going to grant me asylum. And that was torture.”

Omar certainly isn’t alone.

An NHS study found 61% of those seeking asylum are suffering from serious mental distress, and they are five times more likely to suffer from mental health conditions than the wider population.

The latest Home Office figures, published this week, showed 125,173 cases were awaiting a decision at the end of September, a figure which is down 7% on the total this June, but is still up 7% compared with this time last year. 39,668 people have been on the list since before June 2022, well over a year.

A central part of the government’s strategy to reduce the future backlog is to discourage most asylum seekers from coming to the UK at all, with the threat of deportation to Rwanda.

While that has been blocked by the recent Supreme Court ruling – for now – the prime minister is determined to push ahead with the plan.

He has promised a new legally binding treaty with Rwanda to attempt to ease the judges’ concerns about claimants being sent home, and pledged to bring forward emergency legislation to ask parliament to confirm it believes Rwanda is a ‘safe country’. This could potentially happen as soon as next week.

Charities such as the Refugee Council are concerned the uncertainty of the situation for current asylum seekers makes their mental health even worse.

Sarah Temple-Smith, a manager at the Refugee Council’s Youth Therapy Project.

“It adds to the feeling of being destabilised, and the lack of hope for the future,” said Sarah Temple-Smith, a manager at the Refugee Council’s Youth Therapy Project.

“The waiting is particularly hard for them. We know that a sense of powerlessness, a lack of autonomy is linked very strongly to mental illness – mental disorder, clinical depression, other things, even schizophrenia

“I’ve had many clients who have been through terrible things – including being forced onto small boats at gunpoint and seeing other people drown – who’ve actually said that the waiting and not knowing is a worse torture than what they’ve been through. It sounds extraordinary, but I’ve heard it many times.”

Omar found out earlier this year that his asylum claim has been rejected. He has been granted the temporary right to remain in the UK for two years – but is unable to bring his family over.

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“I know now that human rights are a big lie,” he said. “Can anybody live without his family, his children and wife? It’s not easy. Sometimes I think it would just be better for me to go back to Syria, where I would be executed.”

A spokesperson from the Home Office said: “We take the welfare of those in our care extremely seriously and at every stage in the asylum process – from initial arrival, to any potential relocations – our approach is to ensure that the needs and vulnerabilities of asylum seekers are identified and considered including those related to mental health and trauma.

“We are on track to clear the legacy asylum backlog by the end of 2023, which has reduced by more than 60% since the start of November 2022, down by over 59,000 cases.”

The legacy asylum backlog refers to claims made before June 28, 2022, when the Nationality and Borders Act – which includes the Rwanda legislation – was initially tabled.

While the rate of decision-making has improved for the legacy cases, the latest statistics also show the number of more recent claims continue to increase – up 85,505 at the end of September, from 66,176 in the last set of government figures released at the end of June.

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.

Wrexham owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney hope for return to EFL after 15-year wait | UK News

Fifteen years after sinking into the fifth tier of the football league and two years since the arrival of stars from Hollywood – Wrexham’s promotion hopes could rest with Boreham Wood.

The North Wales-based club has been in the fifth division since 2008 but in November 2020 was bought by Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia co-creator Rob McElhenney.

Their involvement has given the club international recognition as the subject of an FX documentary released on Disney+ in the UK – Welcome To Wrexham.

It’s gained big-name sponsors in Expedia and TikTok and has even been a featured team on FIFA 22 and 23.

On Saturday, Wrexham face a crucial match.

Win and they will be back in League Two next season after a long wait. Lose and it will be a nerve-wracking game at Torquay on 29 April as they would have to hope for a win there to be automatically promoted.

Such is the significance of the match that fans have travelled from all over the world, including one fan who has left the US for the first time.

One person who knows the club’s owners well is Maxine Hughes, a US-based journalist originally from Conwy in North Wales who acts as their unofficial Welsh translator.

She told Sky News they “understood Wrexham right from the beginning”.

“They saw the town, and Wales as something they could easily get on board with,” she said.

“I think for Rob particularly, Wrexham reminds him of where he grew up.”

Wrexham co-owner Rob McElhenney (left), Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, and Glenn Howerton celebrate after the final whistle in the Vanarama National League match at The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham. Picture date: Tuesday April 18, 2023. Pic: PA
Wrexham co-owner Rob McElhenney (left), with It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia co-stars Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, and Glenn Howerton

According to Hughes, the club’s owners have “fallen in love with Wales” and they “have this incredible respect for Wrexham AFC supporters”.

“I’ll always be grateful to Rob and Ryan for giving the Welsh language the boost they’ve given it,” she added.

‘It’s about a community’

Wrexham’s 3-0 win over Yeovil on Tuesday, which was watched by McElhenney’s comedy co-stars at the Racecourse, mean they need three points from two games for automatic promotion.

Phil Parkinson’s side will face a strong challenge though as Boreham Wood are unlikely to give them the three points on a plate.

When the two sides met in October last year, it ended in a draw – although this time Wrexham will hope to go a step further with a home advantage.

Wrexham came close to winning promotion last season after it finished second in the league, but missed out in the play-offs.

Their bid for promotion comes after Wrexham’s women recently reached the Adran Premier – the top flight of women’s football in Wales.

Could the team’s top scorer Paul Mullin be involved in securing a victory? He has scored 36 goals for Wrexham in the league so far this season.

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Boreham Wood are currently in sixth place on the table having won two of their last five games.

If Wrexham secures a victory on Saturday, their wait will finally be over and fans would have a moment to remember at the Racecourse.

But Hughes added that “the growing success of Wrexham AFC isn’t just about Rob and Ryan”.

“It’s about a community, who have stuck by that team through thick and thin,” she said.

“And I think that’s why the story if Wrexham has captured the world, it’s the people who make Wrexham what it is, and what it is becoming, and I’m in awe of the community of Wrexham every day.”

Family of 87-year-old man forced to build him shelter out of football goal after 15-hour ambulance wait | UK News

The family of an 87-year-old man were forced to build a makeshift shelter around him using a football goal after he was left waiting 15 hours in the rain for an ambulance.

The great-grandfather, David, suffered serious injuries including seven broken ribs, two fractures to his pelvis and an arm wound after falling over at his home in Cornwall.

His daughter, Karen, and his son-in-law, Trevor, called 999 at 7.30pm on Monday but were left waiting for paramedics until 11.30am the following day.

Operators had told the family not to move David in case it made his injuries worse, forcing them to leave him outside overnight.

Throughout the evening, Karen and Trevor said they made four or five calls to 999, and were given several assurances that paramedics would be with them “soon”.

As it started to pour down with rain, the couple used a football goal, umbrellas and tarpaulin to create a shelter for the pensioner in an attempt to shield him from the elements.

The incident comes amid lengthy waiting times for hospital treatment in Cornwall – with patients saying they have waited outside hospital in ambulances for hours and even days.

‘It was traumatising’

“He was walking to the garage when he tripped and fell over,” said Trevor.

”We dialled 999, but an ambulance didn’t arrive for over 15 hours. We kept ringing and they would say we will be with you soon.

“My wife was a nervous wreck.

”They kept telling us not to move him, so we borrowed a football goal from next door and used a tarpaulin. It was traumatising.”

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David, who lives in the small Cornish village Saint Columb Road, is now recovering at Royal Cornwall Hospital in Treliske.

A spokesperson for the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly’s integrated care system said: “Like other parts of the country, our health and care system continues to experience pressure.

”The reasons for this are complex, including high demand for primary and secondary care, mental health services and adult social care.

“Our teams continue to work together to support people who need our care and we encourage people to use the most appropriate service – including your local pharmacy, minor injury units or 111 online – to keep our emergency departments and 999 service available for people with urgent and life-threatening needs.”

Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust has been approached for a comment.