Report: Up to 40 Per Cent of Courts Empty Despite Rising Crime

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: A statue of the scales of justice stands above the Old Bailey on February 16, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Dan Kitwood/Getty

Between 25 per cent and 40 per cent of British courts are empty, with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirming that it had cut the number of sitting days for judges by 15 per cent.

This is a result of police solving fewer cases and a falling number going to trial, according to data seen by The Telegraph. The newspaper also revealed that the MoJ had opted against funding overflow court sessions to clear up a backlog in the court system, with there being 30,000 Crown Court and 288,000 Magistrates’ cases pending.

A senior judge in England and Wales, Lady Justice Macur,  wrote to the Bar Council in a letter seen by The Telegraph: “I confirm that there has been a reduction in the allocation of Crown Court sitting days from 97,400 in 2018/19 to 82,300 in 2019/20.”

Lady Justice Macur continued: “This figure was calculated by MoJ analysts as that necessary to maintain the number of outstanding criminal cases in the backlog at the same level and considering significantly reduced Crown Court receipts over the previous 12 months, and before that.

“The decision not to further reduce the backlog was a political decision.”

The decisions come despite rising crime in England and Wales, with the attempted murder rate almost doubling in a decade and homicides rising 14 per cent in the 12 months to January 2019, while knife crime hit its highest recorded level in eight years.

Senior barristers have claimed, according to The Telegraph, that the refusal to open more courts for processing cases is due to cost-saving efforts and to avoid prison overcrowding.

The moves have resulted in a two-tier justice system, where those remanded in custody are dealt with swiftly while other cases may not come to trial for years, denying victims’ justice.

Criminal barrister Jonathan Dunne said: “If you are in custody, you have to be tried within six months. If you are not tried within six months, you get released on bail. What politicians don’t want are stories about dangerous rapists being freed on bail because there is no court to try them.”

Mr Dunne revealed that he had recently been involved in a case where the offence had taken place in May 2017. In one instance, a paedophile was spared jail because it took over two years for the case to go to trial, while in another case an alleged sex offender who has been extradited from Australia is currently on bail and living in a hotel awaiting his trial until at least September 21st. Some cases collapse because witnesses give up waiting for court dates.

The report continued that only five of the 18 courts at the Old Bailey in London was scheduled to be open on January 2nd. Across the capital, only 20 of the 104 courts are sitting, in which there were just four trials taking place. This is despite 2019 being another record year for homicides in London.

The Guardian reported on New Year’s Day that London’s Metropolitan Police Service registered 149 homicides last year — up from 138 in 2018, that year already being a decade-high.

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