One of London’s crown courts has been forced into near-total shutdown after a heating problem saw temperatures plunge to dangerous levels.
Lawyers took to social media to bemoan the “utterly disgraceful” situation, with one, barrister Mark Watson, revealing a trial had to be stopped midway through defence speeches due to the chilly conditions.
A swathe of hearings – including the sentencing of notorious paedophile Leslie Paul - were cancelled on Wednesday, as HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) engineers work on a fix for the faulty heating system.
The shutdown comes just days after the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett of Maldon bemoaned the state of the country’s crumbling courts, and said substandard conditions are putting lawyers off from becoming judges.
“Every winter, we lose hearings because the heating is broken. There is a limit to how much you can expect people to sit in court in coats and bobble hats and gloves”, he told MPs.
“People coming from the legal profession are used to working in an environment where the IT works and where there is appropriate staff support.”
The situation at Inner London crown court began on Monday, when lawyers, judges, defendants, and witnesses were met with cold courtrooms. Judge Freya Newbery told jurors they could keep their hats, coats, and gloves on due to the temperature.
Court bosses pulled the plug on a series of cases before lunchtime on Tuesday, amid concerns that health and safety regulations on working conditions may be being breached.
In a post of Twitter last night, HMCTS confirmed: “Inner London crown court will be temporarily closed tomorrow whilst urgent work takes place to fix a fault with the heating system.
“Affected parties have been informed and we’ll provide further updates when available. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Meanwhile at Southwark crown court, one judge arrived at their trial with a fresh cold on Tuesday morning, blaming it on low temperatures on the judicial side of the courthouse.
The shutdown at Inner London is a blow to efforts to tackle the 60,000-strong backlog of criminal cases caused by government funding cuts and the effects of the pandemic.