Claims lives 'put on hold' by Shrewsbury Crown Court delays
A judge has apologised for lives “put on hold” because of a chaotic court backlog.
Judge Anthony Lowe apologised to defendants as he adjourned their cases for “unacceptable” amounts of time due to Shropshire courts being fully booked.
One assault victim, sitting in the public gallery to see his attacker be sentenced, was told he would have to come back next week as there was not time to deal with the matter – while another courtroom sat empty next door.
Another case, a sexual assault trial, was adjourned to August because there were no earlier dates available.
Judge Lowe, speaking at Shrewsbury Crown Court, said: “It won’t escape anyone’s notice that there is an empty court behind me that is going to be empty for the rest of this week and will have periods between now and August when it is empty.
“We are now not allowed to have a recorder in there, whereas this time last year we would have done.”
Without a recorder – an experience barrister qualified to hear and decide on cases – to cover judges' holidays and other commitments, only one of the building’s two courtrooms can be in use when judges are not available, as was the case for the whole of last week.
Last year the Ministry of Justice reduced the sitting days in crown courts to allow judges “to carry out work in the civil and family courts where demand is higher”.
This move was criticised by Judge Lowe, who said: “It might make sense to them in London but it doesn’t make much sense to us in Shropshire.”
‘Cruel’ delays as cash cuts leave courts empty and cases unheard
Delays in cases getting to court are “cruel” for victims, witnesses and defendants, according to a Shropshire solicitor.
Adrian Roberts, a solicitor with Lanyon Bowdler, today revealed the extent of the delays faces by some cases, and warned of stagnation when they reach the crown court.
His comments come as Judge Anthony Lowe voiced frustration at the situation at Shrewsbury Crown Court.
Mr Roberts said that the situation was worsening, adding: “One case I have been dealing with this week has taken two years to get to a hearing.”
“What happens is that when cases get as far as crown court they simply stagnate.”
Mr Roberts said the situation means that only one court is open – despite there already being a backlog of cases, only worsening the problem.
He said: “The Ministry of Justice will not release the funding needed to bring a recorder to Shrewsbury.
“That leads to the situation we have been in this week with only one of the two courts open yet a backlog of cases.
“It is unfair to everyone involved, whether it is the defendant, the alleged victim or victims and any witnesses.
“People’s lives can be put on hold while they wait for the outcome of a trial. It can be very cruel.”
Judge Lowe’s criticism of the situation follows similar remarks he made last September when he warned that the justice system was “breaking at every point”.
Speaking at the time he said: “The powers that be seem to think there is a reduction in cases going through the courts but that is not the case in Shrewsbury.
“I’m now adjourning a trial that should have taken place this week or next week to February 2020.
“It’s not fair on defendants. Defendants are innocent until proven guilty. In every trial there are witnesses, they also have their lives put on hold.
“It’s not a situation that our criminal justice system can be proud of.
“It’s unacceptable. I’m sure the Lord Chief Justice will not think I should involve myself in this... but I really do think that somebody needs to look at whether this is right.
“This is a justice system that is just breaking at every point – from the number of police, the number of CPS [Crown Prosecution Service], the number of court staff, the number of courts, the number of delays.
“Everywhere you look, our justice system is beginning to be not fit for purpose.
“Slow justice is bad justice.”
Despite the reduction in sitting days, the Ministry of Justice today insisted waiting times are shorter now than in the past.
A spokesman said: “The number of outstanding cases at the crown court has decreased by almost 40 per cent since 2014 with waiting times for these cases at their lowest ever.
“We keep sitting days under constant review and in November 2019 we allocated an extra 700 crown court sitting days nationally for the remainder of 2019/20 in response to an increase in case receipts.”