Thursday, December 2, 2021

Courts affected by austerity measures lose days of work due to collapsing ceilings

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England’s courts are so shabby they are losing days of work to collapsing ceilings, broken elevators and arctic conditions, said the Lord Chief Justice.

Lord Burnett, chief of justice in England and Wales, told MPs that conditions in the court were so poor that it was often “not reasonable” to expect people to work in “simply unbearable conditions” .

He told the Commons Justice Committee that hundreds of millions of pounds would have to be spent repairing the buildings if there was any hope of clearing a backwater.

“The HM Courts and Tribunals Service will be able to compile statistics on days that have been lost due to maintenance issues,” he told the committee at a hearing on Tuesday.

“You will remember that a few years ago a survey of the entire jurisdiction was carried out to see what had to be spent on it.

“The numbers were breathtaking: many hundreds of millions of pounds …

“It’s no different than at home: if you don’t clean the gutters, water comes in and you have to re-plaster the walls. It’s that simple.”

Lord Burnett, who has served as chief judge since 2017, said he was “fairly confident” that the poor state of the judiciary is making judges difficult to recruit and that the situation is also “very demoralizing to staff.”

Paul Maynard, a Conservative MP who sits on the committee and was previously junior minister in the Justice Department, added that he “would not yet see” a court in good condition.

The Lord Chief Justice replied, “To hear a former Justice Department Parliamentary Secretary of State say that he has never seen a court in good conditions is something …”

The Justice Chief added: “This has an immediate impact: if the ceiling of a court falls, as it does from time to time, that court is out of action for some time.

“Every winter – we haven’t had a cold snap yet – but every winter we lose our hearing because the heating is broken and there is a limit to how many people can sit on dishes in coats, bobble hats and gloves. That just doesn’t work. In summer we have the opposite problem: that in many of our buildings the cooling systems fail and they become unbearable.

“Every year we have elevators that take forever to repair, which means that dishes cannot be used. So this has a direct impact on the capacity of the system to do business.

“But I think that’s only part of it: the much more fundamental point is that it’s just unreasonable to expect the public, our staff, or our judges, or the professionals, anyone who comes to court to do that they endure conditions that are simply “unbearable.”

In May of this year, the Department of Justice (MoJ) started a search for a contractor for construction and repairs worth £ 500 million, although the work mainly focused on prisons.

The Justice Department has been asked to comment on this story.

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