Shambolic state of our courts demonstrates decades of damage to our justice system

“I’ve had a piece of an air conditioning unit fall on my head at a magistrates court a few years ago and the ceiling fan it fell from still hadn’t been mended when I last went.” (Manchester)

The shambolic state of court buildings across England and Wales – including leaking toilets, broken heating, sewage, mould and asbestos – has been laid bare in a new report launched today (Monday 19 December).*

We surveyed solicitors about whether the court infrastructure is fit for purpose.

Two thirds of respondents had experienced delays in cases being heard in the last 12 months due to the physical state of the courts. Such delays and cancellations have left their clients in limbo, being denied access to justice and having wasted time and costs.

“The poor state of court buildings across England and Wales is both a contributor to the huge backlog of court cases and a stark illustration of the lack of investment in our justice system,” said our president Lubna Shuja.

“Government after government have not only failed to invest in infrastructure but failed to invest in people too – the judges, court staff, solicitors and barristers who keep the wheels of justice turning and have made our justice system the envy of the world.

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

Our five-step plan to address the backlog, which was also launched today (Monday 19 December), recommends:

  • investing in buildings, staff and judges so that valuable court time is no longer wasted by delayed repairs or not enough court staff and judges
  • properly funding legal aid to ensure there are enough legal aid firms to handle civil and criminal cases
  • keeping cases out of the courtroom by properly funding legal aid for early advice
  • installing reliable technology which can drive efficiency in our courts, saving time for lawyers and judges alike. However, rolling out unfinished or untested software drives delays and costs
  • better data collection will shine a light on where investment is needed and what interventions and technology are improving efficiency

“The backlog in our Crown Courts stands at more than 62,000 cases, while care cases in the family court take on average 49 weeks to be dealt with,” added Lubna Shuja.

“Behind each of these statistics are tens of thousands of people caught in limbo, their lives on hold as they await their day in court.

“By targeting investment effectively and applying technology, we can ensure that no one, victim, defendant, family or business, has to face an unacceptable wait for their day in court.

”HM Courts and Tribunals Service is aware the court estate needs fixing and urgently needs to put into practice the steps set out to make that improvement.”**

Notes to editors

• See the survey here and five-step plan here

• * Respondents’ thoughts on the state of court buildings included:

• “Everything is falling apart. Chairs and floors are held together with gaffer tape. Ceilings leak, toilets leak and fail to flush. Mould everywhere.” (Crown Court, London)

• “The standards of cleanliness, access to drinking water, heating/air conditioning and physical infrastructure are appalling. Bio security is haphazard or non-existent. Access to internet is not reliable. Standards of comfort are non-existent. Rather than being regarded as officers of the court solicitors are treated as an inconvenience.” (Brighton)

• “Depends which venue. I’ve had a piece of an air conditioning unit fall on my head at a magistrates court a few years ago and the ceiling fan it fell from still hadn’t been mended when I last went.” (Manchester)

• “It’s derelict. Not fit for purpose. The courts have been neglected since I have been attending since 1991. They are embarrassing. At Birkenhead half the building has fallen down and the other half is closed due to asbestos. I could talk for hours about the appalling state of our courts.” (Liverpool)

• ** See the HMCTS Estates Strategy

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Press office contact: Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100

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