Are UK Courtrooms Lying Empty?

On the one hand, the media will tell us that Britain is very much broken these days. You don’t need to look too far to find stories of foodbanks and poverty, with the media also telling us that crime is at a new level, scaring people off of the streets. However, there are also stories from around the country stating that courts are being underused, or the ones that are being used are being used for trivial matters. One example of this comes from the volume of court cases that take place chasing people who do not pay their licence fee. This is a crime and of course needs to be dealt with, but there are probably far more effective ways to deal with non-payment than court cases.

However, in Loughborough, there is a £15 million courthouse which lies virtually empty on most days. The Loughborough Magistrates Court only opened 6 years ago and yet it is lying near enough empty with a small number of cases being held each week. A number of criminal defence lawyers have spoken out about the decline in the use of the court and of the money that has been wasted.

Empty Court Costs Money for no return

It turns out that there have been a number of cases transferred to Leicester Magistrates Court, while there has also been a movement of administration work to Leicester as well. With some cases now being dealt with outside of court, and a fall in crime in the local area, it all adds up to a situation where there is an expensive building being badly underused. It is obvious that this is not the full story across Britain, but there is no doubt that there is money being wasted in maintaining a number of buildings of this ilk. Given the current economic climate, this isn’t really something that should be allowed to continue.

The building itself still looks great from outside and it has been acknowledged for its style with architectural awards. The current owner of the property is Legal and General, with the government paying rent for its use. The agreement in place for the building is set to remain until 2043 and it is believed that the rent each year stands at around £1.2m. For a building which is reported to have a 20-25% usage level, this is clearly a terrible use of cash and resources.

The building has five court rooms which were purpose built and courts sit on Monday and Friday for trials. There is not a lot going on in these rooms on Tuesday and Thursday with Wednesdays sometimes being used depending on the list of sentencing cases. There has been a great deal of work switched over to Leicester including youth cases, private prosecutions, traffic offences and braches of probation. These are all cases that could be carried out in the local area, making it easier for local people to attend court, as opposed to having to travel to and from Leicester.

Have Court Cases been declining for Decades?

With one solicitor saying that the level of work in the local area has been declining since the early 1990s, it seems very strange for the court to have been built or in demand in the first place. The increasing use of diversion schemes is causing criminal defence solicitors to work and react in different ways. It is no longer about providing a focus to the end of a trial, there is often a need to reach agreement and obtain the best possible result before a trial is even considered. This has caused many criminal defence lawyers to be more proactive from the start of a case, which has helped to conclude matters at an earlier rate, which can be seen as being a positive thing for many people.

If a case is concluded before it reaches court, it:

  • Saves solicitor time
  • Brings the matter to a close at an earlier date
  • Frees up judges and court staff for other activities
  • Ensures justice is obtained at a faster rate

These are all positive things but if cost savings are not being made because court rooms are still lying empty but have to be maintained, there is a need to ensure that these costs are cut.

Saving people the stress and hassle of going to court is a positive thing but if these courts still have to be paid for, there is a need to think of more effective uses for these grand buildings.

Andrew Reilly is a freelance writer with a focus on news stories and consumer interest articles. He has been writing professionally for 8 years but has been writing for as long as he can care to remember. When Andrew isn’t sat behind a laptop or researching a story, he will be found watching a gig or a game of football.