More than £1bn of repairs needed to patch up UK’s dilapidated courts

A parliamentary committee has warned the government over the sorry state of England’s courts, with leaks, broken heating and a lack of modern insulation forming part of a £1bn backlog of urgent works.

A report by the cross-party House of Commons Justice Committee found that court cases have had to be stopped due to issues with court buildings, and that disrepair is a serious problem for the court’s estate, which is suffering from a major backlog.

The committee has called on the government to develop a comprehensive plan to improve the quality of the court estate, and change its current year-by-year funding approach to a multi-year timetable to allow longer and larger maintenance programmes to be implemented. 

“While there are some good court buildings, far too many are in a poor condition. This is having a negative effect on other elements of court capacity and, if not addressed, risks undermining the delivery of the high-quality justice system, which this country expects,” the committee report stated. 

“The government should develop and deliver a comprehensive plan to improve the quality of the court estate, which is funded on a multi-year basis. The plan should identify solutions for delivering essential maintenance without reducing physical capacity.”

Evidence provided by lord chief justice Ian Burnett outlined his concerns over the dilapidated condition of the UK’s courts.

The chief justice said the recruitment of lawyers and judges is being hampered by the rundown state of court buildings across England, which suffer from broken heating, leaky roofs and disfunctional toilets, as well as general disrepair. 

Giving evidence, Burnett said: “We are trying to recruit successful lawyers, solicitors and barristers, who will not have spent the last 10, 15 or 20 years of their lives in buildings where the heating or the air-conditioning might not work, the roof leaks, the loos leak, and so on. Although that is not the universal picture — I am not suggesting it is — it is too common a picture.”

According to the report, the government has recognised that failing to invest in court maintenance was a “false economy”, which would cost more to rectify.

Chief executive of HMCTS [HM Courts and Tribunals Service] Kevin Sadler said that despite being given an extra £105m in funding, much more was needed.

He said: “Our estimate of our overall maintenance backlog is about £1bn, and COVID has created more challenges because heating and ventilation systems have had to run harder than they normally would, and that means they need to be replaced more regularly, so we still have a big challenge ahead.”

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