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Stop delaying justice

The MOJ has brought out a new initiative called Stop Delaying Justice... okay so it's technically an initiative of the judiciary in the magistrates court but its an MOJ thing really.

The idea is that rather than allow defendants to take full advice on a case and their representatives to properly scrutinise the evidence, pleas should be taken on the first hearing and the case disposed of at the second hearing.  That means you enter a plea at first appearance then trial is second appearance no exception.

That's all well and good, but the truth is that if you speak to the duty solicitor at Thames Mags he might well have 15 other clients to deal with.  How much scrutiny do you think he's given you case?  Not much is the answer.  We can all say "well Mr X should know if he committed the crime or not".  But that's often not the case.  And, even if it is this country operates an adversarial legal system meaning that the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt and there is nothing wrong with the defendant asking the prosecution to do just that.

The other problem with Stop Delaying Justice is the CJSSS initiative that was also supposed to speed up the courts by reducing the amount of paperwork... in other words, instead of providing their evidence to the defence and court the prosecution simply give a Janet and John summary of the evidence upon which you are supposed to base all of your tactical decisions that Stop Delaying Justice insists you make on the spot at the first appearance.

How am I supposed to say if PC Smith is required when I've never seen a statement from him?  How do I agree that the arrest was lawful when I have no evidence about the arrest?  How do I agree that the interview transcript is accurate when I have neither transcript nor tape (and even if I did have the tape I have no way of listening to it).  To top it all, how am I supposed to agree evidence and do everything else when I'm appearing as the duty solicitor, have no legal aid and cannot say for sure whether I will be representing the client at trial?

It's also worth remembering that the summary is usually written by the police officer who has dealt with the defendant and because the police officers are human the summaries are frequently one-sided in favour of the prosecution.  In some cases you do get both the summary and selected witness statements, between which it is not uncommon to find significant disagreement.

Since the new year a number of courts have been turned into trial courts meaning that their pre-trial work is shipped to a neighbouring court.  In my area, Stratford is a trial court with all the other work going to Thames.  Last Monday court one at Thames had a list of 50 people and one duty solicitor to cover all comers.  The other courts had very similar lists.  The cells were holding just under 50 people, even though they have barely half that number of cells.

These initiatives are not about reducing delays.  They are about increasing conviction rates in my opinion.

If the MOJ seriously wants to reduce justice delays then they need to stop messing about with courts.  Keep the busy ones open, ensure that they are properly staffed and do the work in their area effectively.  Not sending cases all over the place and having courts in one place and admin in another - e.g. Romford Mags had its admin centre about 8 miles away in Redbridge for a while, which is fine until somebody forgets to send a file over then you have a week long delay!

Comments

  1. I concur with parts of your analysis, but whilst we are supposed to ensure that a plea is taken at the earliest opportunity, many advocates seem to like to string the proceedings out for no good reason.

    We obviously have to keep the business of the court moving along, so delays are often refused unless strong reasons are provided.

    Our cells often accommodate 10-15 prisoners but 50 ? The joys of a rural bench !

    ReplyDelete
  2. i'm a defence advocate and i don't like stringing anything out. (at £50 a hearing why would i bother?) i do kinda like representing my client properly and the fact is that the police haven't a bloody clue about the truth and fiction and the cps are none too picky about misleading a court in a way that would (quite rightly) get me as counsel in serious hot water. amazingly enough, they say things they have no idea are true or otherwise when they think it aids their case. they also simply do not like to disclose anything if they can get away with it. laziness? unfairness?? no idea, but they don't even when repeatedly directed to by djs. that would come under the heading of delaying justice. (which is why i quote the phrase with delight at them whenever possible.)

    i refuse to put on a case management form anything that may prejudice my client's interests when it comes to trial. the cps are very keen on waving them around later and i'd really rather not get bitten on the arse by that. the unfortunate consequence is that if i am not sure that a certain witness is safe to have s9, then i call them. you can always look into it later when (if) you have more details, and if the worst comes to the worst you can just agree to release them on the morning of trial. yes it causes delay and costs more money, but that's not my fault, it's the cps' inability to give you the information they should at the appropriate time. especially when half of them are too damn lazy to fill in their bit of the case management form. which would be delaying justice (again).

    and the bit where they ask what's in dispute? 'that D committed the offence as charged'. unhelpful, but safe. not my job to prepare my defence at a first appearance with neither time nor required information. so it costs the system more? tough - get a better system, then, and not at the cost of prejudicing my clients.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I witnessed an awkward exchange between a solicitor and a seasonably cold District Judge last week. In short, the solicitor was asserting that the Crown were unable to prove their case on the evidence served at the first appearance. Of course, he didn't know what further evidence (if any) might be served. Accordingly, he quite rightly required the Crown to prove their case and declined to make any admissions as to anything else. The Judge went mad and, after realising that there was no way this solicitor was going to change his mind, threatened him with personal wasted costs if his refusal to 'adequately identify the issues' resulted in a delay further down the line. Now, I personally would like to see that happen. Not because I would like to see the solicitor penalised in costs but because I would love to see what the High Court would have to say about the appropriateness of such a sanction. It seems unlikely in the extreme that such a court would uphold the Judge's order as to costs (if indeed he went on to make it) in circumstances where it was clear to all that the solicitor was acting in his client's best interests. Stop Delaying Justice is an initiative to save money and have a more 'effective' and 'streamlined' justice system. It does not, however, have any place in purporting to tamper with the rules of evidence, reverse the burden of proof, or threaten solicitors with wasted costs when they are acting in the best interests of their client, which, I hasten to point out, is their job. I await the day when a Magistrates' Court goes too far and itself then comes under scrutiny by a more superior court.

    ReplyDelete
  4. If a case needs more than two hearings to be dealt with fairly to all parties, jumping up and down whilst shouting "only two hearings" does not assist matters in my opinion.

    In relation to District Judges and the client who does not want to plead, generally in the belief that the complainant will not attend Court and then the Crown cannot prove their case, the Law Society issued a practice note last week. Crimeline had it. Essentially however, it is confirmed that the Defendant has the right to test the Crown's case. Therefore if you write on the PTR form that "The Defendant puts the Prosecution to strict proof" then that is all you can put in those circumstances. Wasted costs only become relevant if there are any costs that are actually wasted, such as by causing an adjournment on the day of trial by only raising the technical defence at that stage. So long as there is no ambush on the day of trial there are no wasted costs.

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  5. I'm not too sure about the new changes to the way in which Magistrates' Courts now operate. Thames has always been a nightmare when trying to get hold of by phone/chasing up correspondence/any other admin tasks.

    Earlier this week, after having spent two days attempting to call the list office through various numbers, we decided to send one of our staff to the Court in person to chase up a response to a letter we had send last week.

    Upon arriving, he was informed that the Court was understaffed and they were too busy to answer the phones.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Good stuff. Great to see we're not alone in fighting (literally) for justice. Similar issues refered to here.

    http://www.ashcottsolicitors.co.uk/police-get-it-wrong-in-drugs-case/2012/02/24/

    ReplyDelete
  7. Just been on the receieving end fof this new system- Had to get an intruder out of my house on a dark night and used strictly reasonable force. Man claimed his false teeth were knocked out and willcost £9000 to replace. No documents supplied at all before Directions Hearing,. Day of hearing-adjourned as no documents received,only statements from 2 poilce officers written up 6 weeks after the evnt- CPS and ther Met.will not produce their original notes,despite serious errors and discrepancies between statements.
    Day of main hearing- requested police notes,photograph of victim's alleged injuries (shown at police interview) not supplied-but on thre day the victim had written a new statement- whose existence was not even disclosed before the hearing. And the statement had been written up by the Met. a month before the hearing-and its existence not even dfisclosed.And the magistrates only allowed a 5 minute adjournment to read it!!
    So now I have to keep silent when sentenced for Assault and file appeal to the Crown Court.
    And we Brits. have the temerity to laugh at other ergimes for unjust legal systems. Look at the mess on your ow doorstep first!!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I am just a simple member of the General public indeed a Pleb.
    However I have spent the last 8 months 7 court appearances and a number of serious allegations against me.
    Why?

    I last December (2011) brought a case for Residency of my then 7 year old daughter.

    As my ex wife disappeared with her last November.
    She has not turned up at court her solicitors have not turned up at court she has made 3 statements all with major differences at different times.

    Her response was a sereies of fabrications

    Serious matters have been documented without any truth evidence facts supporting data or indeed investigation.

    Is this not all Delaying Justice.

    I am still awaiting my next appearence 28th August to sort the new allegations that did not appear in the first two statements.

    Oh not seem my daughter why?
    You have to fill in a document for the Contact Centre that has to be agreed by both parties.
    So a delaying tactic is to put on the from complete fabrications I dont sign thus the Respondent Solicitor wins that little pitch.

    Again is that delaying Justice

    You be the Judge.

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