Tuesday, April 26, 2016

From Bystander T

From Bystander T ( a wise and experienced old beak)

Back in the day,  the Press would have someone sitting at the back of the court quite regularly.  Sometimes it was one of the old hands, looking for a warm place to rest; sometimes a junior, sent to cut their teeth, practising the art.  Rarely would a week go by with no reporter appearing in court.  In recent times reporters seem to appear only for celebrities or other high profile defendants. 

Then earlier this week, with a mixed list in the remand court, what do I see but two reporters sitting at the back.  Examining the list I see a rather nasty sexual assault case, on a girl of 16.  It is at the nastier end of the spectrum so is to be sent to ‘hizonner’ up the road.  That must the case which has attracted the hacks attention? 

But no.  On consulting she who must be obeyed (the usher) we discovered that the case they wanted to see was a traffic matter.  Some misguided youth was seen driving round with  a blue light, à la politzie and had been stopped.  It was his prosecution that brought back the reporters. 

May I be forgiven for thinking this a sad reflection? 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Timely Reminder

Lord Justice Fulford, who is a very senior wig indeed,has reminded benches to be cautious when agreeing to vary the terms of  a curfew order to suit the defendant for whatever reason. There can be cases where it might be appropriate , such as a life-or-death family crisis, but these need to be exceptional.  Further, the words used in court need to be chosen with great care, because the press will take interest in any suggestion of the bench being a crew of silly soft-hearted old duffers, and the Indignant Tendency that infests social media will make the most of it.
I think that the message translates to "if in doubt, don't".

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

No, I'm Not Surprised Either

Thanks to The Times for this (don't worry Rupert, I pay a full sub)

Criminal court tech reforms 'a disaster'

Reforms to move paper-based criminal courts into the digital age have been beset by failings with lost computer discs, systems that "do not talk to each other" and "numerous mistakes", inspectors have found.
Their damning report finds that despite the multimillion-pound programme to modernise the courts, many still heavily rely on paper and manual processes such as scanning documents and producing hard copy of digital images.
This is to compensate for the "lack of a wholly intuitive digital capability", the inspectors say, a situation that causes wasted costs, increased risk of error and undermines the benefits that could come from full digital working.
More than 90 per cent of criminal cases are sent to the Crown Prosecution Service from the police electronically but there is a "high level of user input and processes to make paper documents electronic", the report finds. "This is not wholly digital working or an efficient process for transferring case information from the police to the courts."
Despite previous recommendations by inspectors that a reliable data-sharing solution is needed for CCTV, 999 records and interviews of suspects and others, it is a "disappointment", inspectors say, "to find this has yet to be established".
As a result, computer discs containing evidence still have to be physically sent to the CPS and many are lost, they say. "It was of concern to learn that a widespread issue existed, concerning the misplacing of discs by the CPS."
Other problems include a limit on the size of data that can be transferred across the system, "having a negative impact on the transfer of police data to the CPS".
There is difficulty in sending papers digitally to defence representatives. "Commonly the CPS prints off a paper copy for the defence representatives and sends this via courier to the court." The transfer of case evidence between police and the CPS "still suffers from numerous clerical mistakes".

Sunday, April 03, 2016

From Bystander N

I live in a local justice area that now includes a much wider spread of courts, and their old areas, than the court I was appointed to.
One of my colleagues looked at a defendant’s bail conditions, not to go to a specific postal area, and said to us “That’s not possible.  I know the road in question.  It’s a cul de sac and, to get out, they would have to cross open fields or go into the area their bail condition doesn't allow.”  Who would have set this?  Those like me who don’t know the area in question. 

What price local justice?

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Another Odd 'Un

Last week we were faced with three trials. As is so often the case one fell over for technical reasons, the second was withdrawn by the CPS as their chief witness, a PC, was on annual leave.

I went through the ritual of grumbling at the CPS for a mickey-mouse cock-up that both harmed justice and cost a lot of money, and since you ask, no you cannot have an adjournment. It would be unfair to be hard on the poor young prosecutor on her feet, since the mistakes were made in an office miles away.

So we set out to hear the effective trial. The Crown called their only witness, and put in a few section 9 statements (i.e. unchallenged ones) and it was time for the defence. The solicitor rose to his feet and announced that his client would not be giving evidence (as was his right) so that was the case for the defence. As we retired we each assumed that the Crown would win, since the defendant declined to say anything in his own defence, but as we went methodically through what we had heard, and compared our notes, we decided that the prosecution was full of holes and that we could not safely convict. We trooped back in and I solemnly announced our findings to a rather surprised courtroom. So that was the end of that.

We don't see many like that.