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CBA Crown Court Discussion – 22.05.23

The Senior Presiding Judge, Lord Justice Edis agreed to speak and to take questions on Monday 22nd May 2023, on topics from daily listing to conferences in cells to the common platform.

He was joined by His Honour Judge Christopher Kinch KC, Resident Judge of Woolwich Crown Court, who spoke about listing, CVP, pre-trial reviews in person and even security getting into court.

Questions Raised and Answered: 

1. Why do lists proceed in certain courts without times (e.g., Leicester)? This wastes time for all/barristers sit for hours on links. It makes it very difficult for barristers to take on and complete other work. They are simply expected to wait. 

2. Why do counsel need to attend in person at Woolwich PTRs? Can there not be more flexibility when experienced counsel know that the case will proceed to trial. 

3. Cases are being listed with decreasing concern for barristers’ convenience. Differing methods are used across the country including (e.g., at Woolwich) listing large number of trials with imminent trial dates with the promise of 20% credit if guilty pleas are entered. This creates several problems. 

  • Barristers are expected to attend and simply wait until the court works its way through the long list,  
  • clients come to understand that the difference between pleading at PTPH and pleading a week before the trial is only 5% (what happens if they come to plead of their own volition at a point, they would normally expect 15%?) Should they be advised that leaving it until the trial is called in the week before will attract more credit?  

4. How can any early/Better Case Management work when there are insufficient conference slots to see defendants in prison? 

5. Views on opening Crown Court Judicial appointments to Legal Executives? 

6. Common Platform – Since 2015 I have been in repeated contact with HMCTS to emphasise that if only the instructing solicitor could grant access to a case on CP it would create huge problems, I was repeatedly told this issue would be addressed.   I have been unable to ’trial’ the Common Platform as I have never had a case on the Common Platform until March 2023.  When I first got a case I was repeatedly tried to grant access to another barrister and for two weeks was in contact with both the Helpdesk and people in the Change Directorate who kept telling me is was possible.  Finally, on 15th March I was told it wasn’t possible.  

  • On 11th April Gemma Hewison, the Strategy and Change Director of HMCTS who is responsible for the Courts programme gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee about the Common Platform and was asked by Sir Bob Neil about the limited access to cases on the Common Platform, specifically that only the instructing solicitor could give access. This would create a problem with late returns. 
  • Her reply was “It does allow multiple people to access it from a chambers. That is the point of that organisation role. If I have that role, I can open the access to that case to numerous people within that chambers.” 
  • This is categorically incorrect.
  • It raises the questions (i) why the Director does not appear to understand how the system works (ii) why HMCTS ignored our representations for the past 7 years and (iii) why the Bar has been unable to trial the Common Platform during the design and implementation process and (iv) what is the point of the Bar’s involvement with HMCTS.

7. Are sentencing guidelines now out of date as they did not contemplate sentencing 2-5 years after the offence. Are we seeing the equivalent of deferred sentences (although this isn’t recognised in sentencing guidelines).

8. It is now normal for trials to be heard 2-5 years after the incident even in cases in which the evidence is available and secured soon after the offence. What does ‘trial within a reasonable time’ mean now?  Do the sentencing guidelines/ sentencing fail to reflect the toll taken by the wait?     

9. Many juniors feel exhausted with the number of cases they cover. Why was the CBA well-being protocol not adopted by the SPJ? Why does there remain an expectation that barristers must work at night and weekends when a Judge decides they want submissions in writing at the last minute.

10. Why is there a trend of requirement for sentencing notes from prosecution counsel in some courts (not paid for) but not in others. Views of the SPJ as to whether they should only be provided if directed by the Judge? 

  • Sexual Offences
  • Assaults
  • Drugs 

11. Barristers are experiencing increasing difficulties in seeing clients in the cells before, during and after the court day.  

  • It was once possible to see clients as early at 0900, during the lunch break and after Court.   
  • Defendants are now often not brought to court on time or at all.  
  • They are taken back before any opportunity to have a conference and the cells are closed for the greater part of the lunch hour.  

This heaps additional pressure onto the bar and leads to increasing requests for time during the court day. Is there anything that can be done to eliminate this problem? 

12. Prisons Group The signing-in computers rarely work. Some cases are on the Common Platform, some are on the previous system. When will a single system that works be introduced?    

13. Seeking permission to appear by CVP is time-consuming and the granting of permission is inconsistent.  Could we have a national protocol on CVP appearances? 

14. Facilities at Court have fallen into decay. Conferences rooms are locked and unused leaving counsel without anywhere to meet clients and discuss cases.  Is it possible to open the rooms and allow counsel to use them? 

15. In custody cases, it is often difficult to prepare cases due to lack of available conference slots.  Can anything be done to increase the number of conference slots? 

16. Catering facilities have been disappearing from courts for some years such that it is no longer possible to get even a hot drink in some courts.  Does the SPJ believe it is important that catering facilities are available?  If so, what plans are there for bringing them back?