Are you OK with cookies?

We use small files called ‘cookies’ on Some are essential to make the site work, some help us to understand how we can improve your experience, and some are set by third parties. You can choose to turn off the non-essential cookies. Which cookies are you happy for us to use?

Skip to content

Staffing issues across the court system affecting the care of children

Due to depleting numbers of staff, courts in England and Wales are struggling to provide an effective function, often creating an unsafe environment for those being transported to court or held within court cells. Lay Observers (LOs) report that this is of particular concern for children and young people (CYPs) who, in too many instances, are receiving an unacceptable quality of care.

LOs are unpaid public appointees who monitor how those held in court custody are treated, providing independent oversight of all areas of the court custody and transfer process. In their 2022-23 annual report published today (10 April 2024), LOs report the following concerns:

  • 30% of LO reports from February to October 2023 found that CYPs were being transported alongside detained adults. LOs have found this to be a consistent issue across both Crown and Magistrates’ Courts (MC).

In one instance two female CYPs were transported from Peterborough MC with detained adult males without the presence of CYP trained staff, which LOs find unacceptable.

  • Children spent extended periods both in court custody and being transported, usually with no specialised CYP accommodation.

For example, one CYP held at Taunton MC faced a four hour wait for their court appearance and a further four hour wait for transport on top of long journeys to and from court, totalling over 15 hours in one day.

  • There were not enough staff who had received specialist training to work with CYPs.

February reports found that specialist officers were only present for CYPs 55% of the time in Magistrates Courts. Although LOs report that CYPs were generally treated well by regular court staff, they were not given the specialist or additional care children may need.

The lack of staff in custody suites and delays in journeys to and from courts affect adults as much as children and, disappointingly, these issues have been raised in previous annual reports, alongside the poor treatment of CYPs.

David Whalley, National Council representative of the LOs, says:

“With staffing levels as they currently are, there are only enough to ensure a minimum service. However, custody suites can be highly volatile environments and many detained people have additional physical and mental health needs. The lack of staff means detained people are often not provided with the extra care they require.

We are particularly concerned about the impact staff shortages have on already vulnerable children who come through the court system, many of whom are treated with the equivalent care as detained adults. It is not acceptable for children to be transported with adult males, and children should only be placed in a cell if there is a specific need, not just, as often happens, because of a lack of suitable accommodation.

The fact that custody suites continue to function is a testament to the often excellent efforts of staff. However, if staffing levels do not improve, then this already critical situation will only get worse for both courts and escort services.”