Court closures ‘stressing out’ victims and witnesses, report says

Taunton Crown CourtImage copyright Google
Image caption Smaller crown courts like Taunton are bearing the brunt of courtroom closures

Victims and witnesses are being put under unnecessary pressure and stress due to crown court sitting days being cut by the government, a report says.

Barristers who work across the south west on the Western Circuit, said in a report sitting days fell by 15% last year, causing major delays to trials.

Leader of the Western Circuit, Kate Brunner QC said: “Currently crime is rising but courts are sitting empty.”

HM Courts and Tribunals Service says in November it allocated 700 extra days.

‘Shameful, cynical’

A sitting day is when a court opens for trials, hearings and case management. They have been cut by almost 15%, from 97,400 in 2018-19 to 82,300 in 2019-20.

The Western Circuit represents barristers in the south west, from Winchester, to Gloucester and Truro.

She added that government failure to pay, meant judges were still being paid to sit at home for ‘reading days’, while victims, defendants saw their trials being repeatedly adjourned.

“The Ministry of Justice chooses to spend what little money it has on locking up a few people for a bit longer, rather than opening enough courtrooms so that justice can actually be done in court.

“Shameful, cynical, weak on crime and a betrayal of all, including victims,” she said.

Cases are also being moved to other courts, sometimes 100 miles away, at very short notice.

This left one prison taking a defendant to the wrong court.

Chair of the Bar Council, Amanda Pinto QC said: “You’ve got all of the stress and the impact of that on the witnesses, and of course on the defendant.

“It may be that he or she is not guilty but the time lapse is very significant.”

Judges sitting at smaller two-court centres, such as Gloucester and Taunton, are also burdened with the extra workload when one of them closes.

She added that the cuts were being felt nationally and more investment was needed.

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