Legal team delays stalling trials, new figures reveal

Nearly a third of crown court hearings in the East of England which do not go ahead as planned are adjourned due to legal teams not being ready on the day of the trial, the BBC can reveal.

A BBC Freedom of Information request found that the percentage of trials which fail to go ahead varies widely.

In Northamptonshire 3.3% of trials did not go ahead, while in Hertfordshire the figure was 16.6%.

In the East 30.6% of these did not go ahead due to legal teams issues.

So called "ineffective trials" are ones which are cancelled because either the prosecution or defence legal teams are not ready, witnesses do not turn up, the defendant is not fit to stand or there were administration problems at the court.

The Ministry of Justice said crown court hearings cost more than £1,000 per day.

Following a BBC Freedom of Information request, the Ministry of Justice has revealed that prosecution and defence teams were responsible for between 22.4% (Cambridgeshire) and 38.7% (Essex) cases not going ahead in 2010.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said he was concerned at the figures - which also show 32.6% of the 347 trials which did not go ahead in Suffolk failed to do so due to legal teams not being ready.

"There needs to be be a bigger stick on both the CPS and defence counsels where they don't turn up in court with their home work," he said.

"It's like turning up to lessons having not done your prep. Someone's got to say: 'Sorry you've got to be fined for this'. And these fines need to be implemented."

The Crown Prosecution Service said the figures do not tell the whole story and said it was not fair to blame prosecutors for the majority of cases which stall.

A spokesman said the late arrival of legal papers and evidence from those involved in the criminal justice system plays a major role in delays.