A violent assault on a judge which left him hospitalised was no isolated incident, concerned court users have claimed.
A former judge and a union boss have both said there have been other examples of attacks on people working within the court.
A 40-year-old man last week pleaded guilty to assault causing actual bodily harm and criminal damage following the incident at Milton Keynes County Court. It is understood the attacker was a litigant in person at a closed family hearing, and the judge was chased out of the courtroom and through his chambers before he was attacked. The judge needed hospital treatment but was home within two days and is being supported by leadership judges.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service said the incident was ‘shocking’ but ‘extremely rare’, and a review of the circumstances was underway.
However people using the court have suggested that breaches of security are increasing, particularly as the number of litigants in person rises.
Neil Hickman, a district judge at Milton Keynes for 16 years, told the Gazette that violence in court is ‘a lot more widespread than the MoJ would like to admit’.
He said there had been issues where cases involving potentially violent litigants were heard in unsuitably small rooms, and recounted one incident where an angry party threatened him with a glass carafe.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union which represents court staff, said there need to be changes to court designs and ways of working that ensure people are better protected.
‘Security and safety in courts have been a significant and ongoing concern for us for some time.,’ he said. ‘It’s not just judges at risk – sadly, it’s no longer rare for our members to be intimidated and assaulted in court rooms.
‘Many of the issues arise in family courts because litigants in person do not understand the way the law requires the court to operate, so they are frustrated by the process.’
It is understood that the GMB union, which has a branch for judges, is planning to raise this issue with Lady Chief Justice Carr.
There may also be calls for more family proceedings to be heard remotely if safety cannot be guaranteed in the court buildings themselves.