UNDERFUNDING in criminal justice system was ‘evident by the courts literally collapsing’, a senior barrister said, as the headaches caused by Oxford Crown Court's leaking roof continued.

Last week, Judge Maria Lamb apologised to barristers in courtroom two at the St Aldates courthouse about the ‘water feature’ – with drips cascading from the ceiling into plastic buckets below.

And this morning (Monday, October 24) both courtroom two and neighbouring courtroom six were shut for repairs. The Oxford Mail understands that a small part of the ceiling had collapsed in the latter courtroom, which is normally used by county court judges to hear civil or family cases.

The trial that had been listed in courtroom two, concerning allegations of sexual assault, was moved to another courtroom.

However, that room was not set up for criminal jury trials – where 12 members of the public try the case – leaving a number of jurors marooned at exam hall-style desks. The jury also had to move to another courtroom in order to watch the alleged victim’s pre-recorded cross-examination.

Kirsty Brimelow KC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, which represents criminal barristers, called for action from the government.

She told this newspaper: “There cannot be a functioning criminal justice system with investment in courts pared to the bone.

“Without longer term investment, barristers will continue to leave practice in criminal law and the government will continue to fail to deliver justice for victims of crime.

“Barristers long ago stepped away from metaphorically holding up the roof. And the reality of the collapse of the criminal justice cannot be denied.”

Earlier this month, members of the CBA agreed to suspend their strike and return to work after reaching an agreement with the government over an increase to rates paid for publicly-funded Legal Aid work.

Ms Brimelow said: “The chronic underfunding of the criminal justice system is physically evident by the courts literally collapsing. Government needs to act and build on its recent deal which led to barristers’ suspending their action.”

Giving evidence to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee last year, England and Wales’ top judge the Lord Chief Justice warned that the poor physical conditions of courts dissuaded lawyers from becoming judges and was ‘demoralising’ for court staff.

“It is simply not reasonable to expect the public, our staff, our judges or the professionals—all those who come to court—to endure conditions that are simply intolerable,” Lord Burnett said.

Last week, a spokeswoman for the HM Courts and Tribunals Service – part of the Ministry of Justice – said of the issue in Oxford: “The court will soon benefit from major refurbishments that are due to be completed by the end of the year.”

Earlier today, the Ministry of Justice said court business remained ‘uninterrupted’ despite two courtrooms being out of action.

Read more from this author

This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.  

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward