Courts condemned for lack of help

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The Independent Online
COUNTY COURTS in England and Wales are failing to meet the most basic requirements of the Courts Charter, a survey by the National Consumer Council revealed yesterday.

Ruth Evans, director of the council, said: 'Little effort is being put into making the experience (of going to court) less bewildering and more manageable for consumers. The charter is not being consistently or properly implemented.'

The Courts Charter, published last November, aimed to make county and crown courts more accessible. It undertook to provide information on transport to court, facilities available, and the name and telephone number of a person at the court who could be contacted for further information.

But the survey found that 92 per cent of respondents had not been told about facilities at the court, 88 per cent had not received details on how to get there, and more than three-

quarters were not told who to ask about problems or queries.

The council discovered that 86 per cent of respondents had not even heard of the charter, while of those who had, a third had not read it. Three quarters of those who wanted to complain about court services were unaware of any formal procedures.

The charter was also criticised for failing to make a commitment to providing access for disabled users or those with other special needs.

The council pressed the Lord Chancellor's Department to review charter standards urgently so they meet the needs of disabled and ethnic minority consumers, and to monitor the charter's implementation. A formal complaints procedure with the power to award compensation should be set up and widely publicised.

John Taylor, parliamentary secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department, described parts of the report as 'very useful and constructive', but added: 'The survey was carried out during March and April, very shortly after the charter was introduced. It is inevitable at this early stage of such an ambitious programme that several of the intitiatives would need time to become fully effective.'

CourtWatch; National Consumer Council, 20 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1W 0DH; pounds 3.50.