Dilapidated courts causing delays in justice

London Victims Commissioner Claire Waxman took a photo of the ceiling of a family room at London’s Crown Court in October after it was taken out of service due to flooding (Claire Waxman/Twitter )

The ‘appalling’ state of UK courts, including leaky ceilings, broken heating, sewers and mold, are causing delays in trials, a survey of lawyers has found.

A Law Society report, released on Monday, revealed a shocking catalog of problems within the court estate, including broken elevators, “dirty” fixtures, faulty air conditioning and buckets on the floor to catch water that spilled out. drips from the ceilings.

Conditions at Snaresbrook Crown Court are described as ‘frankly appalling’ by one lawyer, while another claims the Thames Magistrates’ Court is ‘in poor condition’, detailing a sewerage incident in the cells.

Two-thirds of lawyers surveyed said they had experienced delays in cases due to the state of the courts in the past 12 months, with a third of lawyers in London concluding that the court buildings are not suitable for their purpose.

Lawyers also identified a lack of rooms to meet in privacy in Southwark and Isleworth Crown Courts, and one wrote: “(It would) be easier to appoint a court of London which is not a total disgrace in terms of construction.

The Law Society said the dilapidated condition of physical buildings is hampering efforts to reduce the backlog of criminal cases, which currently stands at more than 62,000 cases.

In family courts, cases take an average of nearly a year to complete, with “tens of thousands of people caught in limbo, their lives on hold”, said the body which represents family lawyers. England and Wales.

According to the report, only 13% of lawyers agreed “to a great extent” that the technology in court was fit for purpose, while 21% concluded that it was not at all fit for purpose.

“The poor condition of court buildings in 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.

“Government after government has not only failed to invest in infrastructure, but in the people – the judges, court staff, lawyers and lawyers who keep the wheels of justice turning and have made of our judicial system the envy of the world.

“Decades of damage cannot be reversed overnight, but urgent action can halt this decline before it is too late.”

In the survey, the county court in central London is described as a ‘tired and unsuitable old relic – overcrowded and of appalling quality’, while the Highbury Corner magistrate is ‘dirty and has not been properly cleaned during or since the pandemic,” says a lawyer.

One lawyer pointed out that the ‘decrepit’ annex to Snaresbrook Crown Court was built as a temporary solution in the 1980s and had never been removed or replaced, and another commented: ‘If it rains lot, Snaresbrook smells damp”.

From the Thames Magistrates Court, a solicitor wrote: “The walls are crumbling, the tiles are falling, the roof is leaking. “The consultation rooms are not private and many seats are broken. The interior of court 7 is particularly dark. No air conditioning. The heating is often broken.

Broken elevators are a regular sight in the Courts Estate (Tristan Kirk)

Broken elevators are a regular sight in the Courts Estate (Tristan Kirk)

“Last year sewage came into the cells, it took a day for it to be decided to close the cells.”

At Inner London Crown Court, a lawyer said: ‘Everything is falling apart. Chairs and floors are held together with tape. Ceilings leak, toilets leak and won’t flush. Mold everywhere.

The Law Society is calling for investments in buildings, judges, staff and reliable technology, increased legal aid spending and better data collection to identify the worst problems.

A Department of Justice spokesperson said: ‘Last year we announced the biggest increase in funding for the justice system in more than a decade, reinforcing our commitment to ensuring it protects the public and support the victims.

“We have digitized a range of court services since 2016 and are investing £175million in court maintenance to ensure they are fit for the 21st century. We have also agreed substantial pay rises for solicitors and criminal barristers, with the latter set to earn around £7,000 more per year in general. »

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