Courts for Rwanda hearings made available while other wait years for their cases to come to trial

Image: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

PM finds 25 courts and 150 judges to deal with Rwanda legal challenges within weeks, while other people wait years for their ‘priority’ cases to come to trial

The Home Office has begun rounding up asylum seekers ready to deport them to Rwanda, where their asylum claim will be judged, but from where they will not be allowed to return to Britain. The Guardian editorial this week voiced the opinion that many people share, that this callous cruelty is taking our country to a very dark place.

There will be last ditch attempts by lawyers in a desperate attempt to stop it, but the Government has made it clear it is determined the first flights will take off in 10 to 12 weeks. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said 25 courtrooms & 150 judges available to deal with legal challenges from asylum seekers.

Defence barrister Joanna Hardy-Susskind, from the prestigious Red Lion Chambers commented:

“They had 25 spare courtrooms this entire time? Were they down the back of the sofa?”

Images: Map showing snapshot of 3 April, when 27% courts in England and Wales were not sitting; Joanna Hardy-Susskind

She recently highlighted that our court system is working at 75% capacity while people who have been waiting years for their cases to come to court are regularly told their hearings have been cancelled due to the pressure the justice system is under.

Barrister Ann Crighton says it’s all about money. She has been looking at some of the cases locally where people have had to wait years for their rape or assault case to come to court.

Guest blog by Ann Crighton

Joanna Hardy-Susskind recently highlighted that a quarter of court capacity was not being used, while people wait years for justice.

‘There will be complainants, witnesses and defendants told this week that there is no room to resolve the worst thing that happened to them until 2026’ she wrote on 3 April.

‘Some will walk past empty, locked courtrooms to be told that’.

As a working frontline barrister, I can confirm she is correct.

Unusually, I was recently in central London for an Employment Tribunal. The claimant brought his claim in June 2022 and the first date for the hearing of his case was October 2023, i.e. well over a year later, but we considered ourselves lucky to get such an early date.

Unfortunately it had to be adjourned. When we  went to court this month it was the only case being heard – all other hearing rooms were empty.

Why, when there is a long waiting list?  Why, when there is no shortage of fee paid Judges?  The answer as far as I can see is money – the Ministry of Justice not wanting to pay those Judges.

I asked a few friends (prosecutors) about waiting lists and this is what they said:

Our local Crown Court – Isleworth – is currently listing trials from January 2026. Bear in mind trials are only listed when they are trial ready, i.e. after months or even years of preparation.

Frequently defendants on bail turn up for their trial but their cases are adjourned because their cases are not considered a ‘priority’.  The reason given in ‘capacity’ – the Court simply does not have the capacity to hear the case.

A friend, who prosecutes rape trials only, did one recently in which the offence occurred in 2021 i.e. three years ago.

Another friend with years of experience prosecuting murders said there was a backlog of about a year for murders, i.e. the top ‘priority’ cases.

Bearing in mind that murders and rapes are treated as priority cases, what about waiting lists for other offences, for example GBH where the victim has received life changing injuries?

What about robberies and burglaries? (I suppose there are few of the latter because the Police have stopped investigating the majority of burglaries, but I am sure you will get my point).

My specialty is motoring offences – some are serious, involving death, but others can be considered minor. Nevertheless, a prosecution for speeding at 24 mph several times can put someone out of work, leaving them unable to pay their mortgage and so on.

Let me cite a good example of the backlog. The original offence was driving at 57 in a 50 mph zone but the driver was not nominated (client claims she did not receive the request) so the offence is failing to nominate the driver (client has a clean driving licence by the way).

Offence – 24 October 2022.  First trial date 14 December 2023, adjourned until  January because the court had no availability / capacity to hear the trial. On 12 January the client, her witness and barrister spent whole day in Southend Court only to be told the court had no time to hear her case. The earliest available trial date given was 18 October.

So the client has to wait until October, two years after the offence, for her case to be heard (and by the way the CPS refuse to drop the case).

I blame ALL of the delays on the Ministry of Injustice !!!  There are various reasons, which  include:

  • Selling off much needed Courts such as Hammersmith Court, which was a purpose-built court opened about 30 years ago. Not having that court available causes backlogs and trials are now held in Hendon (no tube station) for adults and Highbury Corner for youths.
  • Leaving court rooms empty because they don’t want to pay the judges.
  • Lack of court staff, for example legal advisors who do not want to use the latest computer system that ‘they’ have spent our money on (the Common Platform). In fact, at one point the court staff went on strike because of it.
  • Wasting money. I frequently travel to the Leonardo Hotel in Croydon to do Crown Court appeals because, having sold off the much-needed courts, ‘they’ use hotels for appeals. At what cost, I ask myself?

A very senior prosecutor said to me that even if we used all available court rooms and even if we still had some of the courts which ‘they’ sold (often for no good reason) we would still have a problem because there are now not enough criminal barristers to do the trials. Many have left because of poor pay, long hours and stress.

So if you, a member of your family or a friend is a victim of a serious crime you can be almost guaranteed that IF (and that is a big IF) they catch the perpetrator, the trial will not be listed for months or, more likely, years.

IF you are accused of a crime and you are innocent then not only will it cost you a lot of money, but it will all be made a lot worse because it will take months or years to clear your name.

Of course, ‘they’ will blame Covid but it is not Covid (although it did make it all a bit worse). It is because ‘they’ closed much needed courts and ‘they’ leave court rooms empty whilst the queue for justice grows longer.

As the Secret Barrister said ‘the law is broken’ and I believe it is because ‘they’ (some would describe as lunatics) have taken over. That is why claimants, witnesses and defendants will be told the worst thing that ever happened to them will not be resolved until 2026!

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