The Leader of the Western Circuit, Kate Brunner QC, has, alongside Anna Midgley and Holly Rust compiled a report, This Doesn’t Look Like Justice, showing how justice is being denied to victims and their families, as well as all other users of the criminal justice system. CLICK HERE FOR FULL REPORT
Their report provides evidence of a wider national problem: cuts to court sitting days have led to complainants abandoning trials, cases being delayed so they are heard years after arrests and massive upheaval to everyone whose lives are affected by the court system.
Cuts made by the Ministry of Justice to the number of days that courts are allowed to be open have led to the courts being “…more over-loaded than ever before” with “Courts never seem[ing] to have enough days for the trials they have”. Court users are finding that “trial with vulnerable witnesses are [postponed], in favour of less serious trials” with one judge observing that “It is difficult for vulnerable witnesses to understand why their case is not being heard for at least six months”.
The long term effect of witnesses refusing to co-operate with the prosecution after adjournments or of complainants having to find travel to court centres 75 miles away from where their cases were supposed to be heard demonstrate the unintended consequences cuts to the justice system are now having.
A detailed survey carried out by the authors at Gloucester Crown Court in November and December 2019 demonstrates just how poorly the criminal justice system is serving the residents of Gloucestershire. The report recommends:
- An urgent increase in the number of court sitting days;
- No reduction in available courtrooms in small court centres;
- The Ministry of Justice publish statistics showing the current delays being experienced for trials;
- Current statistics should be kept up to date and more accurately reflect the delays from the start of the court process, not just once cases reach the Crown Courts;
- The Ministry of Justice should take greater account of what resident judges, and listings officers, who work day to day in their own court centres, are saying about the effect of closed courtrooms;
- In reaching decisions about how many days for which courtrooms should be kept open, the effect on all court users, and not simply a numerical calculation of a backlog, should be taken into account.
These recommendations, and the problems that have led to them, are merely symptomatic of a wider national problem. Justice delayed is justice denied. Justice is currently being denied to many vulnerable people in our criminal courts.