Circuit judges have called on chief constables throughout the country to reconsider their policy of withdrawing police from Crown Court complexes.
The Council of Her Majesty's Circuit Judges is worried after a series of incidents involving intimidation of jurors, courtroom violence and, in one instance, drug dealing in the middle of a case.
“What use is there having a tough prison sentence if a person is acquitted because witnesses or jurors are terrified?” asked council secretary, Judge Sean Duncan.
Police began withdrawing from the courtrooms 18 months ago, and while they have been replaced by security guards, both lawyers and judges have made it plain that courtroom trouble is on the rise and justice is at risk.
In July Government inspectors witnessed violence and drinking at Sefton magistrates court while last week in Liverpool Judge Denis Clark complained about the withdrawal of police from the courtroom after jurors were intimidated.
In another recent incident Judge Timothy Milligan became a witness, giving evidence at Chichester Crown Court that he saw two men passing drugs to each other in his courtroom.
The judiciary has been further infuriated by the Association of Chief Police Officers' claim that its decision to withdraw police had been made, “in consultation with the Crown Court”.
“There has been no agreement with the Circuit Bench that police should be removed from courts,” commented Judge Duncan.
“The Circuit Bench understands the financial constraints within which chief constables have to act but judges are not satisfied that chief constables have given sufficient priority to the need for a police presence in court.”