Courts ‘struggling to cope’ with terror cases

The courts system is struggling to cope with the high number of suspected terrorists coming to trial, a senior prosecutor has warned.

Sue Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS’s) counter-terrorism branch, said there was currently a backlog of 34 terrorism trials, including 99 defendants.

“I am not sure our courts were actually geared up for that – with all the security that goes around that – and finding suitable court centres and suitable judges,” she told The Times.

“There is work at the moment to look at improving court centres and increase the number of courts that can deal with terrorist-related cases and high-security cases generally.”

However, a spokesman for the CPS insisted Ms Hemming had not said the court system could not deal with the pressures, and stressed they “could cope”.

“What the CPS said was that there is a challenge in dealing with the increasing number of terrorism cases,” he said.

Seventeen people were charged in the wake of the alleged plot to blow up several transatlantic planes this summer, and the police are currently involved in more than 70 investigations related to terrorism.

Last week, senior security sources warned Britain was now a target for al-Qaida – they said the July 7th attacks were “just the beginning” – raising the possibility of even more arrests and possible prosecutions.

According to The Times, a panel of about 20 high court judges is being assembled to deal specifically with terrorism cases, and a network of high-security courthouses are being prepared across the country.

Few courts are set up to deal with the high security that accompanies suspected terrorists, and in London, more and more cases are being held at Woolwich crown court which has a tunnel linking it to Belmarsh prison.

The CPS spokeswoman said: “The agencies are committed to working to meet that challenge while looking at improvements for using regional court centres to deal with the cases.

“The CPS very much welcomes the dedicated judges being selected to manage the early stages of these cases.”

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