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October 5, 2014

Are courts in chaos?

Two recent articles have given a glimpse of the impact of austerity on magistrates’ courts.  It is true that crime is down and court work shrinking, but courts seem to have shrunk even further.  The Bristol Post reported that the Bristol Magistrates’ Court, which opened in 2007 at a cost of £25 million, is running only four of the twelve court rooms each day.  While the Magistrate in his/her anonymous blog wrote of a courthouse he visited which is tatty, uses only three of its four courtrooms, and closes every Friday.  This might just be a waste of resources – rooms lying idle cost in upkeep, overheads etc – but in both cases it appears that cases aren’t running effectively either.  In the Bristol case, a whistleblower told the paper that “increasing delays are seeing more cases dropped, failing victims, witnesses and defendants while morale among ushers, legal advisors and magistrates is lower than ever”.  And in the Magistrate’s London courthouse, one trial was abandoned when the key witness did not turn up, while in the other the defendant had mental health problems.  He was acquitted and it was unclear whether he should have been prosecuted in the first place.  There are magistrates aplenty, keen to do cases, but the system is creaking.