Tuesday, October 09, 2012
Cry From The Heart
This is a contribution by Bystander J
Tell Me It Ain’t So…
Off to court yesterday morning. Standard kind of court list, three CPS trials listed, 2 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon. The subject of the charges also pretty usual, a couple of Assault by beatings (Common Assault) with domestic violence overtones and a Harassment without violence. In we go at 10 am all fired up having had some Case Management Training on Saturday…sadly it all went downhill from there.
Under the Criminal Procedure Rules, when a defendant pleads Not Guilty, the prosecution are under a statutory duty to serve Initial Disclosure on the defence within 14 days. This comprises the witness statements, interview summary and basically all the evidence on which the prosecution intend to rely. The defence then have to indicate whether they intend to serve a Defence Case Statement based on the information the prosecution have disclosed setting out in broad terms the defence case. This is to prevent either side springing an ambush on the other…
As JP’s we have been exhorted by our masters at the MOJ to speed up justice and to actively case manage trials to ensure that there are no unnecessary delays and this includes detailed questioning of the parties at the entry of the plea to assist in the completion of the Case Management Form…all intended to avoid unneeded attendance of witnesses (especially police officers) whose evidence is not likely to be questioned as its uncontroversial, and therefore whose written statements can be read thus saving lots of court time and attendant cost – a mission close to the hearts of said masters.
First case called. Defence rise…we cannot proceed as Initial Disclosure has not been served and despite repeated letters to the CPS it’s not been forthcoming. Can it be served now we ask? No, says CPS, we don’t have it either, as it was sent on Friday (ie, zero working days before the trial) and there are other issues causing difficulty anyway. Case reluctantly adjourned.
Next case…can you guess dear reader? Oh yes exactly the same problem with failure to serve Initial Disclosure, and with the third case. Result a whole court wasted with 3 ineffective trials because someone failed to do their job properly. Now I don’t know if it’s because when the files come back to the CPS office after first hearing no one actually bothers to follow up what has happened or it’s because the unit at the police which deals with statement preparation aren’t responding to requests from the CPS…in a sense I don’t care where the fault lies. I DO care that justice is not being done as a result. Victims of crime feel let down (who can blame them) and defendants suffer delay. The court system (and particularly hard working staff and JP’s) take the blame and have resources withheld or courts closed because we are considered ‘inefficient’ Instead we are foisted with half thought through initiatives put together by a nameless civil servant whose probably never set foot in a Magistrates Court in their lives.
In speaking to colleagues at other courts, it’s clear that this complete failure to follow the CPR is now a commonplace occurrence and the frustration throughout the system is palpable. It’s not acceptable; it’s wasteful of time, money and resources. And if that doesn’t get the attention of the MOJ then nothing will.