Magistrates’ courts in chaos

According to a Sunday Telegraph investigation more than one in three court cases fail to proceed because of needless adjournments.

Mar 9, 2006
By David Howell
Andy Pope (left) receives his award from Lord Lingfield, Chairman of the Association of Super Recognisers.

According to a Sunday Telegraph investigation more than one in three court cases fail to proceed because of needless adjournments.

The investigation highlights the chronic problems that the court system faces every day. Following the cases in two courts over one week, it was discovered that the courts themselves were “paralysed by delays and inefficiency.”

In one court in Manchester the judge was forced to adjourn a case for the tenth time stating: “This is not in the interests of justice. The public are paying for this, it is costing a fortune and it is wrong.”

Of the 230 cases monitored by the Sunday Telegraph only 29% were completed and 38% were adjourned because of unnecessary legal problems. The non-attendance of defendants caused 30% of the delays, incomplete paperwork 26% and lost files 18%. The Sunday Telegraph calculated that if their finding were applied to the 1,487 magistrates’ courts in England and Wales, the annual cost would be £600m.

Ann Flintham, a spokesman for the Magistrates Association, said: “All too often we twiddle our thumbs. The problems are not helped by a chronic shortage of probation officers, and old technology. We are trying to be more robust about not allowing adjournments.”

Lack of new technology to allow even the simplest of evidence such as CCTV footage to be viewed is often absent from many magistrates’ courts. Even with the introduction of systems like XHIBIT (eXchanging Hearing Information By Internet Technology) that was installed in 50 Crown courts in England and Wales, this still leaves a massive technology gap for the magistrate court system. The CPS did acknowledge that there was a problem and stated to the Sunday Telegraph: “We acknowledge that there are too many ineffective hearings and are working to reduce them.”

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