The degradation of the courts causes delays in justice

London’s victims’ commissioner Claire Waxman took a photo of the ceiling of a family room at Crown Court in inner London in October, after it was put out of order by flooding (Claire Waxman/Twitter)

The “appalling” state of the UK courts, including leaky ceilings, broken heating, drains and mould, is causing trial delays, an inquiry among lawyers has found.

A Law Society report, released on Monday, revealed a shocking list of problems on the courthouse property, including broken elevators, ‘dirty’ structures, malfunctioning air conditioning and buckets on the floor to catch water dripping from ceilings. .

Conditions at Snaresbrook crown court are branded ‘frankly appalling’ by one solicitor, while another says Thames Magistrates’ Court is ‘in ruins’, detailing a sewage incident in the cells.

Two thirds of lawyers surveyed said they had experienced case delays due to the state of the courts over the past 12 months, with a third of London lawyers concluding that the courthouse buildings are not fit for purpose.

Lawyers also identified the lack of rooms for confidential meeting at the Crown Courts of Southwark and Isleworth, and one wrote: ‘(It would be) easier to name a London court which isn’t a complete disgrace in terms of construction’ .

The Law Society said the deterioration of the physical buildings was hampering efforts to reduce the prosecution backlog, which currently stands at more than 62,000 cases.

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

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

“The poor state of court buildings in England and Wales is both a contributor to the huge backlog of court cases and a clear example 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 also in people: judges, court staff, lawyers and advocates who spin the wheels of justice and have made our justice 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, central London’s county courthouse is described as ‘a tired old relic and not fit for purpose – overcrowded and of appalling quality’, while Highbury Corner magistrate’s is ‘filthy and hasn’t been properly cleaned during or since the pandemic “says a lawyer.

One solicitor pointed out that the “decrepit” annex to Snaresbrook Crown Court was built as a temporary fix in the 1980s and has never been removed or replaced, and another commented: “If it’s raining hard, Snaresbrook smells like humidity”.

Regarding the Thames magistrates court, a lawyer wrote: “The walls are collapsing, the tiles are falling, the roof is leaking. “The consultation rooms are not private and many seats are broken. Inside Court 7 is particularly grim. No air conditioning. Often the heating is broken.

Broken elevators are commonplace within the courthouse estate (Tristan Kirk)

Broken elevators are commonplace within the courthouse estate (Tristan Kirk)

“Last year the sewage arrived in the cells, it took a day for the decision to close the cells.”

At Inner London Crown Court, a solicitor said: ‘Everything is falling apart. Chairs and floors are held together with tape. The ceilings are leaking, the toilets leak and fail to flush. Mold everywhere.”

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

A Justice Ministry spokesman said: “Last year we announced the largest increase in funding for the justice system in over a decade, solidifying our commitment to ensure it protects the public and supports victims.

“Since 2016 we have digitized a number of court services and are investing £175m into maintaining the courts to ensure they are fit for the 21st century. We have also agreed substantial salary increases for barristers and criminal solicitors, with the latter expected to earn around £7,000 more a year typically.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *