Justice delay fears after court days cut
FEWER cases are to be heard at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court because of cuts.
The number of court sitting days at the Hanley court has been reduced from 453 days in 2011/12 to 400 this year.
Ministry of Justice officials today denied it was a money-saving move and blamed the cut on an 'anticipated fall in workload'.
But the decision comes as dozens of North Staffordshire criminals are already being sentenced out of the area because of a backlog of cases at Hanley.
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And last week a suspected armed robber went on trial at Shrewsbury Crown Court following a raid at Tesco's Trent Vale store in March 2011.
A spokesman for Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) said: "Sitting days at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court for 2012/13 have been reduced from 453 to 400. The reduction is due to an anticipated fall in workload.
"The total number of sitting days is worked out using detailed workload models to assess both demand and financial resources required to meet performance targets in each court jurisdiction.
"The HMCTS Board and senior judiciary will monitor workload and performance levels throughout the financial year to ensure standards are being maintained."
The spokesman declined to say why workload was set to fall but more cases are being dealt with by magistrates and cautions.
Lawyers whose firms work at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court hit out at the decision.
Solicitor Stuart Muldoon, of Stevens Solicitors, which has offices in Longton and Burslem, said: "This is going to have an impact on the administration of justice. It will affect both defendants and witnesses. "Cases will be delayed and defendants will have a longer wait to find out if they are guilty or not.
"Witnesses may be nervous and worried about going to court and with the delays they will have that hanging over their heads for longer. Sitting judges already have a lot of cases now.
"It seems that Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court is one of the busiest crown courts, but it is also one of the most efficient.
"It seems to me that it is perhaps being punished for being so efficient."
Robin Lichfield, of Lichfield Reynolds Solicitors, which has branches in Hanley, Longton and Meir, said: "This is going to cause more problems because there are already problems now getting cases listed.
"It is going to cause problems for everyone involved in cases. Stoke-on-Trent is a busy court and it tends to be as efficient as it can."