Court failings scupper 500 cases a week

A total of 106,859 were dropped or delayed last year, costing £17m figures show

Margaret Davis
Wednesday 04 September 2013 21:50 BST

More than 500 court cases are being thrown out or delayed each week due to failings by prosecutors or in the court system, it has been claimed.

Government figures have shown that in total 106,859 cases before crown and magistrates’ courts were dropped or delayed in 2012, costing an estimated £17.4m.

Tony Arbour, Conservative London Assembly Member, said that 30,155 cases were delayed or thrown out because of court or prosecution failings, around 580 per week.

He said in a new report: “In general, the court system is chaotic and even the basics are not in place which often means cases cannot go ahead.

“Trials fall apart because witnesses are not told when to turn up, the Crown Prosecution Service fails to receive police evidence, or barristers fail to call witnesses who are waiting in court into the witness box.

“Witnesses and victims can often be vulnerable, chaotic and disorganised. Often, they don’t want to attend court and just want to get on with their lives. Yet the court system does more to discourage these people from coming forward rather than encouraging them.”

The delayed cases in 2012 included 3,091 that were put back because the prosecution was not ready and 5,159 that were put back because of absent prosecution witnesses, the report said. There were also 642 that were delayed because no interpreter was available, and another 224 were hit by failures in courtroom equipment.

Dropped cases included 10,025 that were stopped because of insufficient prosecution evidence, and 9,867 where a prosecution witness was absent or withdrawn.

Referring to the estimated financial cost, Mr Arbour added: “These enormous sums mask the even greater emotional cost to victims and witnesses, who may become so disillusioned with the courts that they will not use the justice system again, and, worse still not even bother to report crime.

“Only by getting the basics right will the CPS reduce the number of dropped and delayed cases and bring villains to justice effectively. Witnesses and victims need to know the exact time, day and place to attend, prosecution barristers should be able to see case papers in advance, not at 9am for a 10am start, and the CPS, police and prosecution barristers should directly communicate before the trial to make sure it is ready.”

In total 19,703 crown court cases out of 38,432 were dropped or delayed in 2012, and 87,156 out of a total of 156,671 in magistrates’ courts.


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