Absent defendants are slowing magistrates’ courts

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Jun 27, 2017
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Hearings are also hamstrung by poor quality police files, inspectors found

Nearly one in three criminal hearings in magistrates’ courts fails to go ahead, usually because the defendant does not turn up, inspectors have found.

Only 68 per cent of cases examined went ahead at first hearing and the biggest single reason for delays was the defendant not arriving, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) inspectors said.

However, the CPS itself was also responsible for more than 15 per cent of the ineffective hearings, inspectors found, although that was an improvement on the last report in February 2016.

The problem was compounded because the focus now devoted to the first hearing meant that cases were not being reviewed in a timely fashion afterwards, inspectors said. “The lack of a timely effective review by the CPS after the first hearing is a source of frustration to all involved in the criminal justice process and impacts on the efficient running of the court, the service delivered to victims and witnesses and whether the outcome is successful or not.”

The inspectors also found that only 40 per cent of the police files were of the requisite quality needed for the CPS to manage and progress cases. Prosecutors are meant to give feedback on the quality of police files but only did so in 26 per cent of cases, inspectors found.

However, the inspectors reported an improvement in the time taken from the first hearing to the completion of the case. The average number of days for cases in the criminal justice system has fallen by 9.4 for all cases and by nearly 18 for contested cases.

“The clearest improvement in performance was shown in the time taken from first hearing to completion of the case,” said Kevin McGinty, the chief inspector. “If improvements delivered in 2016 had not been made and hearings per case had remained unchanged from 2015, there would have been almost 39,000 additional hearings.”

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