More than 1,000 arrested for court no shows in West Mercia
More than 1,000 arrest warrants were issued last year in West Mercia for defendants who failed to arrive at court hearings, including at Telford Magistrates Court.
Ministry of Justice figures show that 1,238 warrants were issued by magistrates in the West Mercia Local Criminal Justice Board area in 2019 including Telford and Kidderminster, a three per cent drop on the previous year.
But legal charity Transform Justice says such warrants, which can result in offenders ending up in prison, were a waste of police time and an unfair punishment.
With 51,000 court hearings in West Mercia last year, it means that failure to appear warrants were needed for around 2.4 per cent of cases which was below the 3.6 per cent average for England and Wales.
More than 60 per cent of the warrants were issued for offences such as theft and burglary, which could be heard in either magistrates or crown courts.
More than 70,000 warrants were issued nationally, with defendants potentially receiving a fine or being sent to prison for the offence.
Transform Justice director Penelope Gibbs said she was not convinced the “punishment fits the crime”.
Miss Gibbs said: “Someone who doesn’t turn up for their court hearing may not have got the letter, or may have mental health problems or lead a chaotic life.
“They should of course turn up for their court hearing, but maybe the response to failure to appear may need to be different."
Ms Gibbs said the failure to appear warrants were a poor use of police resources, particularly for defendants who “seldom pose an immediate threat to public safety”.
She said new approaches such as the use of text messages to remind people about trial dates and giving them a second chance to turn up if they can be contacted by phone were required.
There has been a gradual decrease in trend the number of warrants being issued. But Ms Gibbs said this was probably due to magistrates dealing with less serious cases being instructed to sentence defendants in their absence.
The national chairman of the Magistrates Association, John Bache, said the number of failure to appear warrants being issued was concerning.
Mr Bache said: “When people do not attend court when required to do so it leads to delays in the justice system which is a waste of scarce resources and may also be upsetting for victims.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the warrants ensure people attend court and prevent further delays, but that the decision to issue them is a matter for the independent judiciary.
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