‘Monday’ Message 03.12.19
Caroline Goodwin QC
Our thoughts and prayers have been with all of those who were involved in the terrorism attack on London Bridge on Friday 29th November 2019 and in particular those who lost loved ones in what was an appalling atrocity. The tributes to Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, speak volumes. The criminal justice community and society have suffered a very great loss. We share in the sorrow.
The sad fact is that it takes a tragedy to engage the powers that be. The three key players in the management of the man who was responsible for the attack, have all been the subject of ruthless cuts; the police, the prisons and the probation service, and yet with severely depleted resources they have still been expected to deliver a high quality service.
There is a serious disconnect between economic policy and the reality of the operation of the criminal justice system. Each ill thought out policy is wreaking havoc upon the general public. We must have confidence in our justice system.
CANCELLATIONS AND DELAYS:
It almost feels disrespectful pointing out the continued failings of the day to day management of the criminal courts, but it is symptomatic of a system that has been neglected.
It is frankly ridiculous to have hot courting as a regular listing arrangement such as we can see happening at Harrow Crown Court, which is struggling to provide court days for trials to be held. Reading Crown Court, Inner London and Norwich, which is “notorious for its ‘over-optimistic’ listing/listing cases which have no prospect of getting on, and this is only getting worse with the court sitting days problem”
We have received emails outlining problems in Aylesbury, Snaresbrook, Merthyr Tydfil, Stafford, Blackfriars, Northampton, Swansea, Cardiff, Bournemouth, St Albans, Leicester and more. The bumper edition is reading like a trilogy.
Courts up and down the land are all struggling. What is Snaresbrook going to do with the 300 extra cases it receives once Blackfriars closes and its work is redirected there?
Resident judges must dread having a hung jury. Just when can they relist those trials? From information passed to the CBA, if such a situation were to occur at Southwark, it is likely the new date for trial would be mid 2021/22. We need more sitting days.
These cases are about people, not just numbers; complainants, defendants, witness support and of course the Bar plays its part. Here is an example at Luton Crown Court. It demonstrates the hard work that the Bar is providing to keep the system going.
A SUNNY DAY IN LUTON:
It is a note from prosecuting counsel, the case was returned on Friday who says:
“I had other work this weekend and stayed up until 2.45am preparing the case, drafting admissions and an opening note. A serious case, allegations of domestic abuse with one of the alleged offences carrying a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
The complainant made a withdrawal statement and a witness summons was issued on the 8th October (nearly two months ago). The current OIC has never met the complainant as the case was transferred to her by a colleague.
The case is listed as a ‘floater’. The defendant’s custody time limits expire in three weeks.
There is no court room available to take us.
The photographic evidence of the injuries (including a nasty cigarette burn) is lost.
The defendant is here, but there is no interpreter, despite one having been booked. Apparently, there isn’t one available. The complainant is not here. It transpires that the Met police never served the summons. They have told the officer in the case that they emailed someone in witness care about some problem with the information they were given but that person appears to have been away and never responded so they did not issue it. For two months. When the officer asked what the issue was so she could resolve it, they were unable to tell her as they were just a ‘call handler’. She is currently off making some more enquiries and trying to see if it can be served today as the CTLS are going to expire soon.
Even if all of the above problems did not exist, there is no court room to hear our case.
And what reaction does this scenario cause in those who work in the criminal justice system, the most awful thing, is that no one is shocked, this is usual, this is now normal. This is the UK Criminal Justice System on a sunny morning in Luton in 2019”
I just want to share the following piece from an email the CBA received:
“A 3-week trial starting on 13th January in Peterborough was unceremoniously moved because of a lack of sitting days to 29th June. A ‘priority’ fixture took our slot and the MOJ won’t release any more sitting days.
The list officer’s apology was sincere and heartfelt, but she was hamstrung by the parsimonious MOJ refusing to fund further sitting days. It is a disgrace.
The alleged victims were those who had engaged plumbers to do work but were allegedly ripped off. They are members of the public who deserve more of their Justice system in my view. There are 6 members of the bar affected all now looking to fill a 3-week slot in 6 week’s time. Not much prospect of that!”
- IS THIS A SYSTEM THAT NEEDS SUBSTANTIAL INVESTMENT?
- IS THIS A SYSTEM THAT IS FAILING THE PUBLIC?
- IS THIS A SYSTEM THAT NEEDS TO LISTEN TO THOSE WORKING IN IT TO LEARN LESSONS?
- ARE THERE MORE EXAMPLES LIKE THIS?
The answer to the above in each instance is “yes”
So, who exactly is going to own up to the creation of what can only be described as an absolute appalling shambles? SILENCE…. I doubt many people will want to own up to this repeated mess.
THE COURT ESTATE:
Meanwhile, with the rains, came leaks and ceiling collapses and now with the cold winter, heating and water malfunctions. Inner London, Leeds, Canterbury, Hove are just some of the Courts which have been unable to operate normally. The irony cannot be lost of trials being moved from Inner London Crown Court to Blackfriars Crown Court, a modern, purpose built and somewhat unusually fit for purpose court which has been sold off and is due to close on 12th December 2019. Sell off the buildings that work and leave us with those that are falling apart.
But above all and I really do want to send this message out, the individuals who are shouldering this, who are going about their jobs, who are attending court, who are dealing with complainants, who are dealing with disillusioned police, who are working with time pressured and under resourced solicitors, who are still courteous to court staff, who are still respectful of the courts, who recognise that by working together there is a future, is none other than the Bar itself. This is a magnificent profession who in times of strain, stress and underfunding still does the right thing. Keep doing it and we are doing all we can to ensure that we carry on. .
MEETING WITH MOJ:
The CBA met with the MOJ and to be frank, purdah stymied much of our discussion. There is very little we can do about that, save to ensure that when we reach the end of this period, we are ready to move on.
I had the opportunity of meeting with Dame Vera Baird last week and enjoyed a positive exchange with her. I am extremely grateful for her time. She was impressed with the training that the Bar had undergone and was extremely interested in the advocates gateway and the associated toolkits. The Bar has made great strides in the subject of sensitive, constructive engagement with witnesses, so it was refreshing to hear the positive compliment. We both recognised that there is much more that can be done in the area of vulnerable witness management and this is part of the challenge that faces the police, the CPS and the Bar.
It was a whirlwind of a week and after meeting the VC, I attended this incredible lecture, this year given by The Hon. Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb. The topic was “Mind-Reading: Neuroscience and the Law”. What with algorithms being used by the police in identifying crime hotspots it felt very 1984.
WOMEN IN CRIMINAL LAW:
On Thursday 28th November I attended the pre-Christmas festivities arranged by WICL. It was a pleasure and privilege to attend. Katy Thorne QC is a force of nature and did well to manage the incredibly enthusiastic crowd! To Katy and her team, a big thank you. For those who have not yet joined, join. This is a very positive selfless organisation and compliments much of what the CBA wants to achieve.
WESTERN CIRCUIT GRAND NIGHT:
Friday 29th I was due to go to Exeter for Grand Night but regrettably the events on London Bridge meant that it was just not possible for me to catch the train. However, I would just like to say thank you to Kate Brunner QC, the new leader of circuit for the invitation and know that she will do a brilliant job.
CBA WINTER CONFERENCE:
Saturday morning brought the CBA winter educational conference with opening remarks from Lady Justice Macur. Her words were incredibly welcome and did much to reassure the assembled throng that we are in a profession with a positive future, even if we are having to be tough and resilient at the minute. Many thanks to Tracy Ayling QC, Director of Education and Training for the Criminal Bar Association for the great schedule. This is a future must.
This week it is:
Mathew Roberts,9 Park Place | Cardiff | CF10 3DP. Keep sending the info Mathew.
FILM OF THE WEEK:
A CHRISTMAS CAROL – ALISTAIR SIM- just listen to the way he says “Spirit, spirit”….next week I may go modern!
Onwards and upwards