Criminal courts test 10ft-high glass cage

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The Independent Online

All defendants could be caged in glass docks when they appear in court to try to prevent a repeat of last week's attack on a female judge.

All defendants could be caged in glass docks when they appear in court to try to prevent a repeat of last week's attack on a female judge.

New docks with toughened glass 2cm thick are being tested at four crown court centres in Preston, Chelmsford, Bristol and Leeds. A decision on whether to install them across the country is expected by the end of the year.

Judge Goddard, 64, was repeatedly punched by a powerfully built defendant who managed to vault over the dock at the Old Bailey despite being flanked by three security guards. The judge suffered a gash above the left eye that needed five stitches.

The new crown court secure docks are enclosed by 10ft-high glass panelling at a cost of between £20,000 and £35,000 each. A similar programme is already under way in the magistrates' courts. Prisoners would not be able to climb out of the secure docks, which will be equipped with fire exits for emergencies, said a spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department. Defendants would still be able tosee and hear everything.

The introduction of glass docks at the Old Bailey will be considered separately after the completion of an investigation into the incident.

The new docks are being tested after a series of security lapses. A barrister wrestled a rapist to the ground during an escape attempt that left a dock officer severely injured last month. Errol Harrison, 37, had been sentenced at Inner London Crown Court to 13 years for breaking into a woman's flat and assaulting her when he shouted "I am innocent", punched the officer and leapt over the 4ft dock enclosure.

And two men wearing balaclavas and security uniforms burst into Slough magistrates' court, fired shots in the air and freed two prisoners in August.

* County courts could be closed and replaced by a hi-tech system allowing people to sue each other over the internet, the Lord Chancellor's Department suggested in a consultation paper yesterday.