survey reveals state of Britain’s courts

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The crumbling state of Britain’s courts is delaying trials, a survey has found, amid complaints over leaking lavatories, broken heating, sewage, mould and asbestos.

Two-thirds of lawyers said courts were in such a state of disrepair that they had experienced delays in cases being heard in the past 12 months, according to research by the Law Society.

They said such delays and cancellations had left their clients in limbo, being denied access to justice and having wasted time and costs.

The survey of more than 500 solicitors found fewer than a fifth (17 per cent) said the court estate was fit for purpose to “a large extent”.

A lack of privacy for confidential client consultations, broken or non-existent heating or air conditioning and run-down, dirty or even mouldy workspaces were the most commonly cited explanations for the physical space being “not fit for purpose”.

The disrepair has compounded delays for victims caused by the backlog of around 60,000 cases which was worsened by the barristers’ strike over the summer.

Victims are on average having to wait 281 days from reporting their offence to completion of their case in a crown court, with the biggest delays after the case has been passed to the courts. For rape victims, it is a two-year wait on average.

“The poor state of court buildings across England and Wales is both a contributor to the huge backlog of court cases and a stark illustration of the lack of investment in our justice system,” said Lubna Shuja, president of the Law Society.

‘The walls are falling in’

Reports in the survey included one from a lawyer at Thames Magistrates’ Court who said it was in “disrepair.” “The walls are falling in, tiles falling off, the roof leaks. The consultation rooms are not private and lots of seating is broken.

“Inside court seven is particularly bleak. No air con. Often heating is broken. Last year sewage came up into the cells. It took a day for it to be decided to close the cells.”

Another reporting on Snaresbrook Crown Court – which has a cumulative backlog bigger than all the courts in Wales – said: “Although some remedial work has been carried out on the roof, the interior is a disgrace – exposed wires, broken fixtures (including seats in court), poor climate control (in some areas of the building none at all), stained carpets, uneven surfaces… the list goes on.”

A third from Inner London Crown Court said: “Everything is falling apart. Chairs and floors are held together with gaffer tape. Ceilings leak, toilets leak and fail to flush. Mould everywhere.”

It was no different at a magistrates outside London.  “There are buckets collecting water from the ceiling. There is duct tape taping the carpet down. There is inadequate space to see clients and most of that is locked. The windows don’t work so cannot be opened,” said one lawyer.

“The toilets are disgusting. Robing rooms are not fit for purpose with barely any desks to work at. If there is air conditioning, it doesn’t work. Most have no catering facilities now.”

The Law Society proposed a five-point plan including extra investment in buildings, staff and judges, an increase in legal aid, the installation of reliable technology and better data collection so that resources could be targeted at courts with the biggest problems.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Last year we announced the largest funding increase for the justice system in more than a decade, solidifying our commitment to making sure it protects the public and supports victims.

“We’ve digitised a raft of court services since 2016 and are investing £175 million in court maintenance to ensure they are fit for the 21st century. We have also agreed substantial pay increases for criminal solicitors and barristers, with the latter set to earn around £7,000 more a year typically.”

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