Courtrooms Lie Empty as Trial Delays Increase

Backlog caused by government cuts ‘undermining access to justice’ in criminal courts. Courtrooms are “lying empty” and judges are being prevented from presiding over trials while the backlog of criminal cases grows longer due to government cuts, according to a report by barristers in the west of England. The number of sitting days on the Western Circuit – which includes Winchester, Southampton, Exeter and Bristol – has been cut by 15% by HM Courts and Tribunal Service in the past year causing “rocketing delays”, the study finds. Some courts, it says, are booked solid – even for short trials – for the next nine months, while many cases are being adjourned and moved up to 100 miles away.

“The national average time between an offence and completion of the case in the crown court has [risen] over the last decade from 392 days in 2010 to 525 days in 2019,” the report says. One unnamed resident judge quoted in the report said the restrictions were causing “considerable concern to witnesses and advocates when they have attended anticipating the trial only to find it has had to be adjourned”. That was particularly “galling”, the judge added, “if one of the judges is reading papers, preparing etc so as to ensure we do not exceed the limited number of sitting days. We have the court and judge available but not the sitting days within which to do the work.” “Reading days are being imposed on judges to keep sitting days down,” the report says. “Although the judge is paid on an annual salary, money is still being saved by not paying court staff, advocates’ fees etc. Official figures for judges’ reading days are not available, but it is understood that they have increased as court sitting days have been decreased.”

Read more: Owen Bowcott, Guardian,

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