Aggressive incidents in court buildings on the increase


The number of assaults, threats and incidents of verbal abuse at courts in England and Wales increased last year, new figures have shown.

A total of 217 incidents of "aggressive contact/assault" were recorded in court and tribunal buildings in 2014, Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) revealed.

This compares to 212 incidents in 2013 and 108 incidents between April and December 2012. HMCTS said it did not hold data for January to March 2012.

The figures come after custody officer Lorraine Barwell died following an incident at London's Blackfriars Crown Court in July.

Humphrey Burke is due to stand trial in January accused of murdering the 54-year-old Serco employee, who was allegedly attacked as she escorted a prisoner between the court and a waiting van.

The number of "verbal abuse" incidents rose to 243 last year, up from 213 in 2013 and 126 between April and December 2012, according to figures obtained by the Press Association under the Freedom of Information Act.

Another 141 incidents involving threats were also recorded in 2014, compared with 93 in 2013 and 37 between April and December 2012.

Lucy Hastings, director of the charity Victim Support, said: "These figures emphasise the need for all vulnerable victims and witnesses to have access to special measures in court, such as giving evidence over a video link, and greater use of remote sites so vulnerable witnesses do not need to attend a court building.

"All witnesses need access to a secure waiting area and specialist support on the day of a trial. Giving evidence in court can be very stressful, so it is crucial that measures are taken to reduce this stress wherever possible.

"People's willingness to give evidence in court is essential in helping to ensure justice is done, so everything possible should be done to make sure they feel safe and supported while doing so."

Between January and September this year, 139 incidents of "aggressive contact/assault" were recorded, along with 168 incidents involving verbal abuse and 64 "threat" incidents.

A HMCTS spokeswoman said: "HMCTS takes the issue of security within courts extremely seriously and has a robust security and safety system to protect all court users and the judiciary.

"This system includes mandatory bag searches, metal detectors and surveillance cameras, as well as court security officers who have legislative powers to protect all those in the court building. The powers of the court security officers include the ability to restrain and remove people from the building should there be a need.

"Our security system is continually monitored to ensure that it is effective and proportionate and mitigates against the risks faced."