Chaos at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ court
'It was mayhem. I got through security and I couldn’t believe the number of people that were there.'
24 July, 2020 — By Calum Fraser
HIGHBURY Corner Magistrates was plunged into a state of “mayhem” this week after an admin blunder saw hundreds of lawyers and defendants packed into the same court.
Solicitors and barristers accused the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) of creating an “unsafe” environment as it was alleged that at least 150 people were stuffed into one courtroom on Tuesday with similar numbers seen on Wednesday.
More than 300 cases are already listed to be heard this coming Monday.
A spokesman for the Criminal Bar Association said this chaos was “symptomatic” of deep-rooted issues in the Criminal Justice System as a vast backlog of cases had built up even before the coronavirus outbreak and has now become “unmanageable”.
The MoJ has said that the issue is down to an administration error as cases that were meant to be delayed to a future date “remained incorrectly listed”.
Chris Pickwick, of Pickwick Solicitors, told the Tribune: “It was mayhem. I got through security and I couldn’t believe the number of people that were there. We were inches apart from each other.”
He added: “The clerk of the court just adjourned every case. I was furious. I stormed in and said this is absolutely ridiculous.”
Adeela Khan, a solicitor with Edward Fail, Bradshaw & Waterson, said: “It’s bad enough for people to have to go to court in the first place. “But to go there just to be told to go away and go back on public transport for no reason is disgraceful really. It shows that they have no respect for people like the lawyers and the defendants.”
Grace Cowell, a pupil barrister for One Pump chamber, was at the court on Tuesday with a client.
She said: “I think everyone was quite shocked to be honest. It just was not a safe environment and it was impossible to maintain social distancing measures.”
James Rossiter, a spokesman for the Criminal Bar Association, said: “This cannot go on. The disregard for the justice system has been frankly insulting to anyone involved in trials and if this government is serious about caring for the community it must invest now substantially and sustainably for the next few years so this does not happen again.
“This crisis in the Criminal Justice System has been one of the government’s own making from financial obstinacy for many years leading right up to the Covid-19 crisis.”
He added: “Unfortunately what criminal barristers, defendants and witnesses have experienced this week at Highbury Magistrates is symptomatic of what many are experiencing at courts across London and further afield given the scale of trial backlogs that were growing before Covid and have escalated since the end of March. It illustrates that the situation is becoming unmanageable.”
A spokeswoman for the MoJ and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service said: “We apologise sincerely for the inconvenience caused – staff are working hard to fix the issue and ensure everyone affected is notified in good time.”