Poor state of English and Welsh courts aggravates backlog, Law Society says | British criminal justice

Broken heating, sewage, mould, asbestos and leaky toilets and roofs are among the problems lawyers face in the courts of England and Wales, according to a Law Society survey.

About two-thirds of respondents said they had experienced delays in hearing cases in the past year due to the physical state of the courts, with their professional body warning it was contributing to the large backlog.

Other issues identified by lawyers included lack of private spaces for client consultations, broken air conditioning, lack of drinking water or other refreshments, poor technology, broken elevators and others. accessibility issues, particularly affecting clients and lawyers with disabilities,

Less than a fifth of respondents considered the court buildings to be “to a large extent” fit for purpose.

A lawyer said of the Thames Magistrates’ Court in east London: ‘The walls are crumbling, the tiles are falling, the roof is leaking. The consultation rooms are not private and many seats are broken. The interior of court seven is particularly dark. No air conditioning. Heating often broken. Last year sewage came into the cells, it took a day for it to be decided to close the cells.

Another said: “I had a piece of an air conditioner fall on my head a few years ago and the ceiling fan it fell from had still not been fixed when I last visited. .”

The Law Society invited 9,663 lawyers with higher audience rights to complete the online survey, with 446 answering all questions and 135 answering some.

Nearly half said they had experienced cases adjourned due to the state of the courts, and a quarter had cases that had been transferred to another location. Delays and cancellations would have left customers in limbo, denied them access to justice, and wasted time and money.

Writing about a London Crown Court, a lawyer said: ‘Everything is falling apart. Chairs and floors are held together with tape. Ceilings leak, toilets leak and won’t flush. Mold everywhere.

There were several tales of broken heating and poor air conditioning, meaning some courts were too hot in the summer and freezing in the winter.

Wood Green Crown Court in north London was reportedly closed on Tuesday due to a broken heater while cold weather delays or cancellations were also reported at several other courts over the past week.

A respondent to the survey said the failure of the air conditioning to work during the summer at Southwark Crown Court led to ‘sickness due to overheating of jurors and staff’.

Lubna Shuja, President of the Law Society, said: “The poor condition of court buildings in England and Wales contributes to the huge backlog of court cases and a stark illustration of the lack of investment in our justice system. ,

“Decades of damage cannot be reversed overnight, but urgent action can halt this decline before it is too late.”

The report was released on Monday, the same day the Law Society launched a plan to tackle the backlog of cases, which stands at more than 62,000 in Crown Courts. Investing in buildings, staff and judges was one of the five recommendations. The rest were properly funding legal aid, preventing cases from going to court, installing reliable technology and better data collection to highlight areas where investment was needed.

A Justice Department spokesman said it had announced the biggest increase in funding for the justice system in more than a decade. “We have digitized a range of court services since 2016 and are investing £175m in upkeep of the courts to ensure they are fit for the 21st century,” the spokesperson said.

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