Concerns have been raised over a backlog of Worthing Magistrates court hearings – meaning cases are now taking more than six months to reach trial dates.
Solicitors have voiced a range of issues which they believe could impact on the delivery of justice. This includes witnesses and defendants suffering additional anxiety and trauma over having to wait nearly twice as long as they have previously had to for cases to be brought before judges.
The situation has become markedly worse in recent months, with Chichester magistrates court (which now operates a joint county service with Worthing) only open two days a week, which has placed additional strain on facilities at Worthing.
Cases heard this week at the court are now being scheduled for trial in July. The delays come despite a recently-introduced early guilty plea scheme, which was intended to fast-track hearings.
But with hundreds of cases now being heard at Worthing each week, the system has become extremely stretched.
Further hold-ups to cases were also caused by flooding at Worthing Magistrates court, which forced the closure of the building.
This resulted in more than a week’s court time over the festive season being lost in the process.
Pete Long, of Wannops solicitors in Worthing, revealed he “could not remember it ever taking this long” for cases to reach trial.
He said: “I attended a court users meeting recently and I know everyone is concerned by the delays that are happening. There has been an initiative last year for early guilty pleas, which was designed to improve the time it takes to deal with cases.
“ I’m aware there have been several court closures including Lewes Magistrates and at Haywards Heath as well.”
Stephen Hollamby, senior partner at Bennett Griffin solicitors, added: “Everyone is affected by delays to court hearings and it can impact on whether someone is found guilty or not if it’s quite some time after the events happened. There’s the saying that justice delayed is justice denied.”
Fellow Worthing-based solicitor Joanne Lee said it was of concern that those connected with trials were waiting more than six months, which she believed could add to any feelings of trauma.
A HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokesperson responded: “We are working with other agencies is committed to reducing the time it takes for cases to go through the criminal justice system.
“We are working to introduce steps that will improve timeliness, including rolling out digital working across the system, removing unnecessary bureaucracy and maximising the use of video technology to allow more cases to be heard without delay.”