Leeds court staff face disciplinary action after release blunders

Court staff will face disciplinary action for serious failures that resulted in hundreds of defendants escaping trial and thousands more avoiding being recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC).

Justice secretary Jack Straw announced an urgent investigation by the Courts Administration Inspectorate at Leeds Magistrates Court last November after it emerged arrest warrants issued for defendants who failed to appear in court had been withdrawn without judicial approval.

There was also a suspicion that serious offences had not been recorded on the PNC database, which holds details of people, vehicles and crimes on to support criminal investigation.

A Ministry of Justice statement said: “As a result of these investigations, disciplinary action has been initiated against members of staff at Leeds Magistrates Court who are implicated in these matters and in respect of those covered by a separate judicial report to the Lord Chief Justice.

“The inspectorate’s report paints a lamentable picture of the historic failure at Leeds Magistrates Court [to] properly record the results of court adjudication, dating back to 1980 with the vast majority occurring between 2001 and 2004.”

As many as 555 defendants had their cases written off when their warrants were withdrawn – covering 1,709 offences. Most were motoring or minor offences, but some were serious sexual assaults.

Crimes committed by 1,200 individuals may still be missing from the PNC records, according to the report.

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