Waiting for the verdict: judges are overloaded

The mountain of unprocessed cases at the district court has been growing steadily for five years. The reason: the increasing number of criminal offenses.

If it takes a long time until the trial, it is difficult to clarify who had a hand in it. Photo: (dpa)

The Bremen Regional Court is calling for new judges to be hired – in order to be able to work through the high number of old cases. These are the 208 cases that have been pending at the regional court for more than 33 months. Among them are around ten proceedings that were received before 2014 and involve sexual offenses or other acts of violence. The alleged perpetrators are not in custody.

"These are proceedings that we should actually open immediately," Karin Goldmann, president of the regional court, said Monday. "In the case of rape, one year is already too much," she said. That’s because the crime itself could date back even further, because the police and public prosecutor’s office were still investigating beforehand – or because a victim didn’t report a perpetrator until she was an adult. "The longer the crime goes back, the lower the chances of a verdict because the witnesses can no longer remember." Especially in sex crimes, there is rarely any evidence other than witness statements.

For crime victims, such long trial durations are dramatic, Goldmann said. "They would like to process what they’ve experienced and have closure with it, but they can’t because everything is rehashed at trial."

The district court’s presidium justifies the procedural backlog with the alleged steady increase in crimes and the high proportion of cases in which the defendants are remanded in custody. These cases must be given priority by the court. Last year, it failed to do so in two cases, so two defendants had to be released from pretrial detention. Both of them, Goldmann said, had appeared at every court hearing and had been sentenced in the meantime.

Goldmann could not explain the increase in these cases. "This is a nationwide phenomenon." Manfred Kelle, the court’s deputy president, pointed out that they were dealing with stabbings more frequently than in the past, with people being injured. "There seems to be an increasing number of people who carry a knife and use it as they see fit."

As of yesterday, Monday, the district court had received 38 such cases this year. There were 30 such cases in the same period last year and only 22 in 2015. The total number of criminal cases has also risen in the last three years: in 2014, there were 150; in the current year, according to a projection by the district court, there could be 213.

This also means that the mountain of cases that have been left lying around is getting bigger, despite newly hired judges. "These are supposed to be working off the backlogs, but they don’t get to do that because they are constantly busy with detention cases," Goldmann said. She recalled that there was a similar situation in 2007. At that time, 167 old cases had been waiting to be processed. By 2011, the hiring of three judges had brought that total down to 114 cases.

Last November, the then State Councilor for Justice announced that the number of judges at the regional court would be increased from the current 44 to a total of 50 for the civil and criminal chambers.The other courts as well as the public prosecutor’s office in Bremen also complain about too high a workload.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *