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Letting victims down

I spent yesterday conducting the defence in a magistrates' court trial.  This is something of a novelty for me as I rarely venture into mags court trials, although I do a lot of other hearings there.  I just don't like them, they can be very informal and law is often an irrelevancy if you happen to find yourself before an inexperienced bench/advisor.

Yesterdays trial was a long one and, contrary to what I have just said, very heavy on the law.  I have about 6 legal rulings noted in my book given by the magistrates at some point yesterday.  Even though I am contradicting what I said just a moment ago, each one of the legal arguments was complicated but each one of the rulings was detailed, to the point and correct (including the ones I lost).

In the end, I won the trial.  I shouldn't have won though.  At the start of the day the evidence against me was overwhelming, in my opinion.  However, the police and CPS seemed to be conspiring together to let the victims down as much as possible.

At the plea hearing, the CPS indicated they would ask for special measures to make giving evidence easier for the victims because they had said they were afraid of the defendant.  The CPS were also to apply to admit the defendant's bad character. 

Neither was done. 

Yesterday, the court received a message saying the witnesses would not be attending due to their fear of the defendant.  The police had been to take witness statements from the missing witnesses about their fear, which according to the evidence from the officer was mostly based on a claim that the defendant's five-year-old son had said something to the victim's five-year-old son.  I imagine these two normal healthy adults had other concerns but the officer didn't bother to ask about them.

Even though the CPS had known for a long time that neither witness wanted to attend, no effort was made to have their evidence read until the day of trial but which time the application was refused as a) coming far too late; and b) leaving the defendant with no way of putting his case to the witnesses.  Had the CPS bothered to make the special measures applications as they promised then this would have been avoided, they would have given live evidence and I fully expect they would have been believed.

Also, because the CPS didn't bother to make a bad character application, the bench did not hear about his previous convictions for similar offences.

The police who investigated the offence of criminal damage hadn't bothered to take any photographs of the damage or make a note of the damage.  This meant that by the time we got to trial without the missing witnesses the Crown were unable to prove that there was in fact any damage at all!

The officer in the case had attended the scene and taken some photographs, albeit a month after the incident by which time the damage had been repaired.  These photographs would have been very useful to the court, but he decided not to tell anybody about them until after the trial had ended.

The court clerk and I both agreed that it has been a while since either of us have seen a case where the police and CPS have failed so miserably to look out for victims of crime.


  1. A pity in so many way. There can be no winners here. But you can rest assured this is not untypical.

  2. Without wishing to excuse CPS incompetency, are you not an officer of the court?
    Do you nor wish to see justice done?
    Why not have your client tell the truth then?

  3. Ed (not Bystander)8 November 2010 at 03:45

    The court isn't on the Crown's side, it's impartial. The advocate for the defendant is there to put the defendant's case. That is what he is instructed that the truth is. "Oi", if you don't like people being acquitted, go to Japan. Or China. Or North Korea.

  4. Oi, as usual my client instructed me that he was telling the truth.

    Contrary to your obvious believe I lack telepathic powers. If I had to guess whether he was guilty or not I would guess guilty, but that is not the same as my knowing it and it's not for me to make the decision until such time as I get called for jury service.

    I wonder, and please do tell us all, how you would feel if you found yourself wrongly accused of an offence; you told your solicitor that X, Y and Z happened and your solicitor replied along the lines of, "now be a good boy and just admit the offence would you.". I'm going to hazard a guess that you wouldn't be impressed at all.

    I have certainly told clients that their stories don't make sense and that they should plead guilty, but I cannot force them to plead and my professional obligations do not allow me to withdraw simply because I do not believe somebody.

    Ed, I have to ask - is Japan particularly well known for convicting people? I'm not being sarcastic, it's a genuine question - I always assumed their system was much like ours.

  5. A little googling gives several hits claiming that the conviction rate in Japan is 99.7% or 99.8%.

  6. Ed (not Bystander)8 November 2010 at 17:05

    TDB, Japan's criminal justice system has a conviction rate of around 99.9%: see article in the Economist. They are just trialling a jury system. I am fairly sure that China actually has a higher acquittal rate. It could hardly be lower.

  7. Ed, Been to China. Lovely place - Lovely people.
    For some reason, I have not made it to Japan - Yet.... and have no burning ambition to go to North Korea.

    I guess they do have points in their favour - Theres not a lot of Johnathon Vass's there committing murder after walking free on bail

  8. Ed (not Bystander)9 November 2010 at 04:41

    "Oi", get back in your box. You can come out when you're interesting and/or informed.

  9. Ed and anon, thanks for informing me about Japan. I had no idea their conviction rate was so high.

    Oi, I'm interested what you would do? It's easy to say lock up anyone accused of murder, in fact that's not far off what the Bail Act says for murder cases. But, I think they'll always be cases where bail is justified. For example, if a 50-year-old woman with no previous convictions gives her 88-year-old mother an overdose to kill her because the mother is suffering huge amounts of pain etc., should the daughter be held in custody until her case is decided? I'm not trying to be clever, I'm genuinely interested in what you think about this sort of case.


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