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Delays at regions courts ’unacceptable’ - minister
VICTIMS of crime are being betrayed by unacceptable delays at the region’s courts, a minister has said.
Damian Green launched a fierce attack on the failure to start trials on the day they are listed, pledging to overhaul the system.
The minister released new figures revealing that just 44 per cent of trials start on the day planned at magistrates courts across England.
But figures show that the performance of courts in North Yorkshire and the North-East is even worse – and among the worst in the country.
Only about one third of trials were “effective” at York with of the 79 listed only 24 going ahead on the day with 33 per cent at Teesside and 32 per cent at Durham.
The figures, from July to September last year, measure the proportion of trials that “began on the scheduled date and reached a conclusion”.
Mr Green said: “It is unacceptable that only 44 per cent of trials go ahead on the day they have been listed. If, every day, only 44 per cent of trains left the stations, or 44 per cent of planned hospital operations took place, there would be a national uproar. I want to see a far higher proportion of effective trials that go ahead the first time that they are listed.”
Mr Green promised improvements, by:
• Tackling mistakes in file preparation and poor communication between the police, judiciary, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and court service.
• Increased use of new technology to “join up” the criminal justice process and allow the agencies to share information digitally.
• Creating “speeding offences” days, when such cases are dealt with en masse. At present, they can take six months, despite being straightforward.
• An end to “overlisting”, when courts list more than one trial to start at the same time – resulting in victims and witnesses being turned away several times.
• Banning lawyers from legal-aid cases unless they can send and receive files digitally.
Mr Green announced a new criminal justice board, featuring a senior judge, to draw up a package of reforms – insisting it would not be “another talking shop”.
But the Magistrates’ Association warned that steep funding cuts meant Britain could no longer afford a Rolls-Royce justice system. Responding to the speech, John Fassenfelt, its chairman, said: “I accept our country is in a dire financial situation –perhaps we can only afford a Ford Escort system.”