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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 June, 2005, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Court delays need action, say MPs
Police generic
MPs said information was slow in passing between police and courts.
Delays in court cases which lead to many collapsing when defendants failing to show, have been criticised by a powerful House of Commons committee.

One in seven defendants failed to attend hearings in England and Wales in 2002 wasting time and money, members of the Public Accounts Committee said.

Defendants and prosecution witnesses not turning up to hearings were the biggest causes of trials collapsing.

More use of professional magistrates was mooted as way to cut down delays.

The failure of prosecution witnesses to attend court was the biggest reason for trials not proceeding, the committee was told.

All defendants must be left in no doubt that failing to turn up in court will have swift and uncomfortable consequences
Edward Leigh MP, chairman public accounts committee

The all-party Public Accounts Committee also said a pilot scheme which reduced the number of court hearings in a case had almost halved the number of ineffective trials.

The report, published on Thursday, called on the Department for Constitutional Affairs to review whether use of stipendiary magistrates could lead to better management of trials.

'Recommendations to be studied'

A move away from the traditional lay magistracy in favour of increased use of so-called stipendiary magistrates - who are legally qualified - could help bring more offenders to justice, they said.

But the committee also acknowledged the public support for lay magistrates.

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said: "Many clearly believe that they can get away with snubbing the legal process and, disgracefully, there is some justification for that belief."

He said many defendants were not brought back to court promptly enough.

The message is clear - turning up at court is not optional and failure to do so could result in a jail sentence.
Spokeswoman for Attorney General

"All defendants must be left in no doubt that failing to turn up in court will have swift and uncomfortable consequences," he added.

Committee member Gerry Steinberg MP said he had heard it took a week for the magistrates court to inform the police if a defendant did not show up in court.

"Therefore it takes over a week for the police then to re-arrest that person. How does it take a week for a court to inform the police, when you can go to a computer and you can type an email and within 10 seconds the police could know that that person has not come to court. Why does it take a week?" he asked.

The document also criticised the time taken by the criminal justice system to issue and serve warrants against defendants who fail to turn up.

Of 118,000 bail warrants issued in 2002 only 45% were executed by police within three months, it said.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, said: "Tackling defendants who fail to turn up at court is an important issue which is why the Government has been taking firm action."

This included Operation Turn Up, a national crackdown on bail-dodgers who have failed to show up to court, revised guidance and held workshops with front line criminal justice agencies, improving case management through courts and new targets for local criminal justice boards.

"The Government is committed to rounding up these defendants and the message is clear - turning up at court is not optional and failure to do so could result in a jail sentence."

Some court cases had seen 18 individual hearings taking place, said the report. But a pilot scheme in Essex halved non-attendance from 8.2% in 2003-03 to 4.4% the following year by reducing the number of hearings to two and sending reminders. end

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