A few days ago I sat in a breach court situated in the building which previously housed the business of a smaller bench which was amalgamated with ours in January. Since only a relatively small proportion of our sittings takes place in this small building each visit is akin to working in a new location. The courtroom where we sat had a secure dock but owing to the lack of an usher the door was left open. I was informed that was the normal procedure on health and safety considerations. Presumably the health and safety of court users other than the defendant`s was not a consideration. The public gallery had only a very low wooden barrier to separate it from the well of the court. Fortunately although we had to send two breach offenders to custody their friends and relatives responded only with some mild verbal abuse; the situation could easily have turned more combustible. When this lack of security was raised during the post court review our very experienced L/A, a slightly built lady no more than five foot three inches tall, told us that she and her colleagues had complained repeatedly through their trade union of the possible danger of violence within that particular courtroom but precisely nothing had been done.
There has been a steady decline in the protection offered to court users over the last twenty years. Police officers no longer are employed to secure courts or buildings; private security companies have been given that job and they are only available to the bench when called and sometimes not after 5.00pm. Ushers and legal advisors are being exposed to risks that would not be tolerated in many other countries. Serious disorder within courtrooms is generally not a major problem at present and headlines are always made when judges are attacked. Disorder within magistrates` courts appears to be a low but acceptable risk.