Defendants in custody face court delays

East End magistrates have been unable to hear the cases of defendants being held in custody because of a glitch in the system which transfers them to court.

Problems in logging defendants’ whereabouts have led to delays at Thames magistrates’ court this week and there are fears that those facing trial could be left in custody longer than they would have been because of the setback.

One magistrate hearing cases relating to the London riots complained on Tuesday: “If we don’t get them (the defendants) we can’t deal with them.”

Matt Smith, a legal advisor at the court, said the situation could become problematic for cases where there is a breach of bail.

Rules state defendants who have been arrested and remanded in custody because they have not stuck to their bail conditions should appear before a court within 24 hours.

Mr Smith said on Tuesday: “It’s been a frustrating and very slow morning as we’ve been dealing with whoever we can.”

The contract for the transporting of prisoners and defendants to court is run by services firm Serco, which has admitted there have been “teething problems” with its new system.

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On the international services giant’s website it states that the company took over the contract for transporting prisoners and those in custody – called Prisoner Escort and Custody Services - at the end of last month.

The contract is worth up to �420 million to Serco over 10 years.

A Serco spokesperson said: “We are working hard to resolve these issues as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we have put in place a full range of contingencies to ensure that we are able to operate the courts as normal, including reverting to a manual system.”