Scandal of suspects who don't bother turning up for court in Lancashire

Almost 2,000 arrest warrants were issued last year for people who failed to turn up to court in Lancashire.

Friday, 3rd April 2020, 6:00 am
Ministry of Justice figures show 1,850 failure to appear warrants were issued in magistrates courts in the Lancashire Local Criminal Justice Board area in 2019

But legal charity Transform Justice says the warrants, which can lead to prison time, are a waste of police time and an unfair punishment.

Ministry of Justice figures show 1,850 failure to appear warrants were issued in magistrates courts in the Lancashire Local Criminal Justice Board area in 2019 – though this was a ​nine per cent drop on 2018.

Across England and Wales, more than 70,000 failure to appear warrants were issued, with defendants potentially receiving a fine or being sent to prison for the offence.

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Penelope Gibbs, director of Transform Justice, said she wasn’t convinced the “punishment fits the crime”.

“Someone who doesn’t turn up for their court hearing may not have got the letter, or may have mental health problems or lead a chaotic life,” she said.

“They should of course turn up for their court hearing, but maybe the response to failure to appear may need to be different.”

With 64,000 court hearings in Lancashire last year, it means that failure to appear warrants were needed for around 2.9 per cent – well below the 3.6 per cent average across England and Wales.

More than 60% of the warrants were issued for offences such as theft and burglary, which could be heard in either magistrates courts or Crown courts.

Ms Gibbs says failure to appear warrants were a poor use of police resources, particularly for people who “seldom pose an immediate threat to public safety”.

She suggested new approaches such as the use of text messages to remind people about trial dates and giving them a second chance to come to court if they can be reached by phone.

Though the number of warrants issued across the country has been gradually decreasing, Ms Gibbs said this was probably because magistrates dealing with less serious cases have been instructed to sentence people in their absence if they don’t turn up.

But John Bache, national chair of the Magistrates Association, said the number of failure to appear warrants being issued is still very concerning.

He said: “When people do not attend court when required to do so it leads to delays in the justice system, which is a waste of scarce resources and may also be upsetting for victims.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the warrants ensure people attend court and prevent further delays, but that the decision to issue them is a matter for the independent judiciary.