(From Bystander N)
I recently spent time in a crown court’s public gallery. I’m used to being on the bench with a judge or recorder, but not elsewhere in the court room.
My first two impressions were not favourable. Much of the seating used by the advocates was ripped or badly worn and held together with masking tape. The proceedings started about forty minutes late mainly because the prosecutor needed time to copy a summary for the jurors. Why, I asked myself, wasn’t this done before the start of the trial?
The offence was sexual assault and definitely at the lower end of the scale. A hand was alleged to have cupped a buttock, over clothing. I was there on day two and heard that when the alleged victim gave evidence she said she hadn’t felt anything and hadn’t known an offence had taken place. A friend who was with her said she had seen it. I heard the defendant being examined and cross examined. No doubt the judge, in summing up, would have told the jury that his having no previous made him more believable than otherwise.
To give just a little of the background the defendant said the incident started when a small group of teenagers on his bus seemed to him to be talking about him and laughing at him. He told them to behave themselves. Based on his evidence, the CC TV from which I could not see any offence committed, and what I heard of what the other witnesses had said I felt the prosecution had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. I came away with a question though.
I knew by lunch on day two that there were three civilian prosecution witnesses, the defendant and the officer in the case who I also heard give evidence. There were some agreed statements. The officer’s evidence left questions in my mind over the way they had dealt with it, but I digress. I worked out that if held in my court the trial should have been set for a day. I would be surprised if a magistrates’ court had declined jurisdiction and it was more likely that the defendant, or rather his solicitor, had opted for crown court.
In those august surroundings, three days had been allocated. What did that cost, whoever ended up paying, compared with what it would have cost in my court? No wonder the justice system is short of money.
"My court"? "MY court"??ReplyDelete
Standard procedure. It's so much snappier than saying "the courthouse at which I usually sit", isn't it?Delete
I agree, only one day in mags, but sUrely they would have to incorporate quite a long time for the jury's deliberations, 12 will take longer than 3.ReplyDelete
In my experience it's the whole trial that takes longer not just the jury deliberation. I've been in cases and completely unable to explain what we were waiting for. Just seems part of the process at CC to sit around for most of the day.Delete
I'm flabbergasted reading this. If your fourth paragraph is correct this is a malicious revenge case - what on earth are our police thinking? This case also illustrates why it's better just to shut up and put up with anti-social behaviour. And police wonder why people don't intervene. They actually wonder!ReplyDelete
Well the conviction rate in the lower court is much greater than with a jury. I know which venue I would pick.ReplyDelete
Should it not be a part of training to sit in the gallery for a few session? And then write impressions for discussion among trainees/trainer?ReplyDelete
Seems reasonable to me.
It is already a part of the process for selection of magistrates. You have to attend a session at least once but I was recommended to sit through more than that. Your impressions and opinions are then discussed as part of the interview process. If I recall correctly I think it was during the first interview. The more sessions you attend the more you have to discuss and the more informed your opinion of proceedings can be. After appointment but before sitting, my mentor also accompanied me on two further occasions so I could seek clarification on any matters arising.
So far as the original topic is concerned, it is the inevitable result of the right of the defendant to elect trial by jury. Like BS I don't believe for a moment that the lower court declined jurisdiction in this matter. Far more likely that the defendant elected for it go upstairs. Some would like to see this change, with the court deciding venue. Some feel that this would be a step too far.
The problem is that everything is horrendously rushed in the Magistrates' Court, not that things are slow in the Crown Court.ReplyDelete
Yes indeed and it should be so too for crown court judges to sit in a magistrates' court for at least one full day every year.ReplyDelete
What the conviction rate is in the differing courts should not be the question but whether justice is being done. moreoften than not these days it is not!!!ReplyDelete
The cost of a CC trial is horrrendous and for a fair whack of cases unneccessary. Unlike some I think the Mags court actually is rather fair and with a properly consitiuted bench or openminded DJ you get a decent hearing. but really this item is more about whether the case should have ever got to court.
Injustice will take another step on Monday when these ridiculous court charges come into force. There is no choice they will have to be imposed REGARDLESS OF THE OFFENDER'S MEANS. Bearing in mind the vast volume of customers of the Mags are on benefit how the hell are these people going to pay????
If sentencing and punishment are supposed to be proportionate how can imposing a £500 charge on a person pleading guilty to Drunk and Disorderly possibly be fair. I am not sure in what cockeyed world the MOJ operate but I cannot see how a 10 minute D+D case could ever cost £500+ to deal with.
No wonder justice in this county is getting a bad name.
We discussed that in our court today when we handed out a £35 fine to someone of very limited means.Delete
Had the case come up before us in a few days time, adding up the fine, victim surcharge and court and prosecution costs, his total bill would have been £290. Look at that as a multiple of the punishment, and tell me it's not farcical.
Some replies may have gone into the rights and wrongs of a prosecution, but the article was not written with that in mind. It was written solely based on considering the cost of a hearing in the Crown Court as opposed to the cost of a Magistrates' trial.Delete
That should have ben NGDelete
While considerable resources of 'consultants' have been deployed over the years to look at the efficiency of mag courts, fewer efforts have been directed at Crown Courts, where the larger public costs are incurred. I wonder why.............ReplyDelete
If the powers that be really wanted to save money the easiest way would be to transfer a large chunk of the EW stuff that needlessly goes to the CC back to the Mags.It's quicker, cheaper and probably fairer to all- especially for cases that everyone knows will be guilty pleas. Even if that mean more DJs dealing with the top end work , it would take away the farce of what goes on now. If you go to some commonwealth jurisdictions the lower courts have much more powers. If that spawned a few extra appeals to the CC then pound for pound it would still be better value for money.ReplyDelete
Why was his lack of previous mentioned at all? I didn't think criminal records (or lack thereof) were admissible.ReplyDelete
It is perfectly permissible, and a defence lawyer will often tell a court, that their client has no previous as it will lend weight to the credibility of their version of events. The defence could introduce previous convictions themselves should they want to but this is unusual. Once or twice I have heard the defence say, for example, that their client has a long history of shop lifting to which they have always pleaded guilty, but they have never committed a violent offence which they are charged with now and to which they have pleaded not guilty.Delete
The prosecution can't give any previous but they can make what is called a Bad Character Application in certain circumstances. In the magistrates court the application is argued by the prosecution and defence and the bench then decides. If it is accepted, the prosecution can tell the court of previous offences. I was on a trial recently when the defendant said, in a long and rambling reply to a question that he had never been in trouble. Up popped the astute prosecutor to make a bad character application. It was accepted. The defendant's previous was put to him and after several denials he finally agreed the previous was his, and was correct.
If a defence lawyer does not at some point say that their client has no previous it's pretty much a racing certainly that they have.
Very interesting, thank you. That does significantly weaken the rule against the prosecution not mentioning previous.Delete
Previous convictions are mentioned all the time these days subject to the rules.ReplyDelete
Havign said that, previous convictions and there use are much overrated. In my view they are often used just because they can be and add nothing of substance to the case, in fact just the reverse. Trying to bolster a weak case by there use is not very good.