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Judge bemoans cuts and closures with justice system 'at breaking point'

By Rob Smith | Crime | Published:

"Breaking at every point" – that is the verdict of a senior Shropshire judge on a justice system plagued by staff shortages, courtrooms lying empty for weeks and delays in some cases of half a year.

Shrewsbury Crown Court

Midland Circuit Judge Anthony Lowe, who sits at Shrewsbury Crown Court, excoriated cuts to police and staff numbers that meant some defendants wait months to be heard on the charges they face while the lives of witnesses are "put on hold".

He was speaking after the trial of a 20-year-old Shrewsbury man for assault and having a weapon, which was due to be held this week or next, had to be delayed until early February next year.

Tyrone Jones, of Crewe Street, denies carrying out the offences in September last year.

One of the causes of the delay was that one of the two crown courtrooms at Shrewsbury was closed for the whole of last week because two judges are on leave.

A recorder might have sat in the courtroom instead of a judge, but none were assigned.

Recorders are appointed nationally and assigned by the Lord Chief Justice to a Circuit in England or Wales.

'Not fair'

Judge Lowe said Jones' trial would have been a "relatively straightforward three-day trial" but that because some courtrooms have been kept empty, Shrewsbury has lost five or six sitting weeks in the last month and several cases have had to be delayed.

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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.

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"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."

Earlier this month it was revealed that the average time between a crime being committed and the case being completed at the county's only crown court stood at 815 days.

This was 505 days longer than during the same period in 2011.

Judge Lowe was appointed to the Midland Circuit in January 2018 after serving as a recorder for 13 years.

Rob Smith

By Rob Smith
Reporter

Senior reporter for the Shropshire Star based at Ketley in Telford.

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