Minister hits out at court trial delays

VICTIMS of crime are being betrayed by “unacceptable” delays at the region’s courts, a minister said yesterday (Tuesday, February 19).

The Northern Echo: court delays

Damian Green launched a fierce attack on the failure to start trials on the day they are listed, pledging to overhaul the system.

The minister released new figures revealing that just 44 per cent of trials start on the day planned at magistrates courts across England.

But The Northern Echo can reveal that the performance of courts in the North-East and North Yorkshire is even worse – and among the worst in the country.

Only around one third of trials are “effective” at Teesside (33 per cent), Durham (32 per cent), Newcastle (31 per cent) and, worst of all, York (30 per cent).

The figures, for the period between July and September last year, measure the proportion of trials that “begin on the scheduled date and reach a conclusion”.

Mr Green said: “It is unacceptable that only 44 per cent of trials go ahead on the day they have been listed.

“If, every day, only 44 per cent of trains left the stations, or 44 per cent of planned hospital operations took place, there would be a national uproar. Yet every day this happens in the magistrates courts.

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“I want to see a far higher proportion of effective trials that go ahead the first time that they are listed. Ineffective trials should be the exception, not the rule.”

Mr Green promised improvements, by:

  • Tackling mistakes in file preparation and poor communication between the police, judiciary, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and court service.
  • Increased use of new technology to “join up” the criminal justice process and allow the agencies to share information digitally.
  • Creating “speeding offences” days, when such cases are dealt with en masse. At present, they can take six months, despite being straightforward.
  • An end to “overlisting”, when courts list more than one trial to start at the same time – resulting in victims and witnesses being turned away several times.
  • Banning lawyers from legal aid cases unless they can send and receive files digitally.

But the Magistrates' Association immediately warned that steep funding cuts meant Britain could no longer afford a “Rolls-Royce” justice system.

Responding to the speech, in London, John Fassenfelt, its chairman, said: “I accept our country is in a dire financial situation - perhaps we can only afford a Ford Escort system.

“However, a Ford Escort runs on petrol. How can you reassure me that your reforms will get in place quickly enough before the petrol runs out?”

Mr Green announced a new criminal justice board, featuring a senior judge, to draw up a package of reforms – insisting it would not be “another talking shop”.

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