Dozens of crown courts ‘sat idle’ with thousands of cases delayed, lawyers claim

Court rooms are sitting empty while thousands of criminal cases are being delayed, lawyers have claimed.

According to research carried out by barristers, 127 rooms out of 260 in 34 crown courts across the country were “sat idle” on Monday morning.

Jonathan Dunne compiled a list with the help of contributions from other lawyers which he says indicated how many rooms in each crown court were “doing absolutely nothing”.

The news comes just days after Government figures showed the number of people being prosecuted or handed out-of-court disposals is at its lowest since records began, while more offences are being reported to police.

Mr Dunne, a criminal barrister at the Nottingham and Leicester-based KCH Garden Square Chambers, said on Twitter: “Across 34 Crown Court centres, there are 127 court rooms out of 260, doing absolutely nothing this morning. There are thousands of cases backed up, re-listed and delayed. Action has got to start matching the spin.”

In his list he named just two crown courts which were being “fully utilised” – Chester and Southampton.

He said nine out of 18 rooms in the Central Criminal Court – known as the Old Bailey – were empty and nothing was happening at all in Lancaster’s one court room as well as:

  • 12 out of 15 not being used in Southwark Crown Court
  • Seven out of 17 in Birmingham
  • Two out of three in Cambridge
  • Five out of 10 in Wood Green
  • 11 out of 20 in Snaresbrook
  • One out of two in Peterborough
  • 13 out of 26 in Manchester
  • Four out of 10 across Lewes, Brighton and Hove crown courts
  • Six out of 12 in Kingston-upon-Thames

Richard Atkins QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: “This latest news, that so many crown courts are sitting empty, will come as a devastating blow to those victims of crime who are waiting for their cases to come to court or who are waiting for justice to be done to those who have admitted committing crimes against them.

“Whilst I am encouraged by the news that the government intends to increase the number of serving police officers, funding must also be provided to ensure that those who are alleged to have committed crimes can be placed before a functioning court without delay.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, for all those involved in the criminal justice process. Courts should not be sitting idle but should be dispensing justice.”

A Courts and Tribunals spokeswoman said: “There is no shortage of judges in the crown court and sitting day requirements and waiting times are reviewed throughout the year, with additional recorders deployed according to demand.

“Last year saw a 12% reduction in crown court trial cases and the allocation of sitting days reflects this. Waiting times for these cases are the shortest since 2014.”

Each year, forecasts are made to predict the number of cases expected to make it to court and sitting days are allocated to reflect this. The number of trial cases in-hand at crown courts is the lowest since 2000 (24,777) and waiting times are the shortest since 2014 (18.7 weeks from first hearing to trial), according to the MoJ.

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