‘Monday’ Message 04.02.20
Caroline Goodwin QC
INCREASE IN SITTING DAYS – IT IS ABOUT TIME:
Last week I went to see the Lord Chancellor and during a convivial discussion was told that there would be an increment in sitting days. Not wishing to be rude…I declined to say, well it is not before time. That increment is largely down to you.
The sending in of examples some of which are published, some of which are not, but have all been logged has shone a spotlight on this issue.
Since September 2019, the CBA has kept up the momentum in highlighting the very sorry state of the way in which criminal trials have been listed, vacated and given new dates. The impact has been felt by the practicing Bar, by complainants, witnesses, witness support.
It simply is not acceptable that complainants have literally been turned away at the door, but like Oliver once said, “Please sir, I want some more”.
In spite of this much needed boost it simply is not enough. The backlog of cases is increasing; we are waiting with bated breath for all of those cases which have been released under investigation.
The extra 4500 days announced for 20/21 to counter delays is as I say welcome but not enough. We are not even back where we started. We have seen a steady decline since 2015. We are 27,000 sitting days down from 2015/2016. The consequences are dramatic.
There has to be a better way of calculating the sitting days requirements. Working on figures that are out of date is utterly hopeless; we end up in the situation we have all experienced; not enough days, courts closed and important sensitive cases being kicked into the long grass. No wonder there is an increased attrition rate amongst complainants. Why on earth is it deemed acceptable that there should be such a wait?
ALL PARTY PARLIAMENTARY GROUP:
With that thought in mind, yesterday I was incredibly privileged to speak on your behalf to the All Parliamentary Party Group dealing with legal aid and what justice requires under the new administration. It was an impressive platform, including Lord Falconer, Bob Neil MP, Karen Buck MP, Simon Davies President of the Law Society, Amanda Pinto QC Chair of the Bar and representatives from the main parties. Young practitioners were also represented, two of whom said that they could no longer sustain practice in the world of criminal law. This is appalling.
I highlighted 5 areas where we need dramatic change.
For the Ministry of Justice, Home Office and Treasury to be really serious about the victims of crime there has to be:
Substantial increase in Crown Court sitting days, to reopen shut courts so judges and barristers can try thousands of cases ready for trial but being delayed for up to a year or more, on top of an increasing backlog. We are facing a perfect storm. Police-recorded crime rose by seven per cent to almost 5.8 but we are seeing rising offences and falling prosecutions.
I provided the following cases, brought to my attention by you:
TEESSIDE CROWN COURT:
Wed 22.01.20 (1 case listed to float) –
R V Hanley (Fraud) – 78-year-old complainant.
Re-listed 10th August.
Thu 23.01.20 (1 case listed to float) –
R v Bell (Threats of Violence with Imitation Firearm) – All three civilian witnesses, who live in Scotland, attend court only to be sent away. Re listed for trial on the 1st July to float again.
Mon 27.01.20 (1 case listed to float) –
RV Husseini (S.47) – 3rd listing of trial. Adj to a new trial date 10.09.20
Tue 28.01.20 (3 cases listed to float) –
Including a Sex Assault Child Under 13 – 2nd listing of trial – WHY IS THIS CASE A FLOATER?
R V Anderson, Fender & Rooks (S.18) – Listed for Newton Hearing not reached
All three defendants produced.
R V Kennedy (S.18) – Listed for trial not reached adjourned to float W/C 07.09.20 likely not be reached again.
Is this serving the public….?
No-one wants this.
- A Swift end to the use of the Released Under Investigation system which allows for all crimes including serious violent and sexual offences to go unchecked, causing unnecessary delays to trials, increasing risks of further harm to the public with no monitoring of offenders and leaving defendants in limbo. There is no excuse for forensic services to take months and months.
- End to the abuse of police community resolution orders for serious crimes – their use for serious crimes is contrary to their original purpose and guide to police. These cases should be dealt formally in a court room, CROs create a post code lottery for prosecutions. It is not appropriate to use them in serious sexual offences.
- Increase in criminal legal aid advocacy fees to prevent the hemorrhaging of young talent at the criminal bar and ensure there are sufficient professionals in place to handle the increase in cases that will eventually return from police and CPS increasing their prosecutions to keep pace reported crime.
- Doubling of the police offices promised to 40,000 to ensure more than make up for the 20,000 already cut and more investment in expertise and training at the CPS to ensure all reported crimes can be swiftly and diligently investigated, charged where appropriate.
The government cannot be surprised that faith in the entire criminal justice system is rapidly eroding if offences remain as crime categories on the statute books but nothing substantial is done to prevent them – let alone enforce, charge and prosecute.
The recent damning figures showed that overall, the chances of a crime resulting in a charge has more than halved from 15.5 per cent in 2015 to 7.3 per cent.
A quick review of the headlines from the papers last week included:
- COURTS IN CRISIS
- DELAYS LEAVE PAEDOPHILE TRIALS ON BRINK OF COLLAPSE
- THIRD OF COURTHOUSES SOLD OFF
- VICTIMS MUST PUT LIVES ON HOLD WHILE WAITING FOR JUSTICE QUICKFIXES
Is there not a common theme here?
Unless this administration recognises that investment is needed the situation is going to get worse.
CPS AND MOJ FEES:
This subject is never far away from anything we do.
Last week we met with the CPS and yesterday we met with the MOJ. We are incredibly conscious of the timetable, and are pressing hard. The CPS changes as timetabled came into place and we are pushing on the area of the accelerated asks. It is anticipated that the consultation on the AGFS accelerated asks interim solutions will be published by the Ministry of Justice within the next couple of weeks. We are acutely aware of the delay and hope to provide you with a clear timetable next week. It is imperative that as many people as possible respond. We will also be seeking your assistance in building an evidence base on critical issues going forward.
Chris Henley QC is as ever driving the criminal Bar’s position and that leads me to the next point.
LEGAL PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR 2020, VOTE NOW – CHRIS HENLEY QC:
The Legal Personality of the Year award honours an individual (not necessarily with a background or qualification in the law) who has made an outstanding contribution in the legal sphere in the past year.
A shortlist of five candidates has been drawn up by the New Law Journal editorial team. Amongst them is our very own Chris Henley QC.
I really am encouraging you to vote for him. He was last year an outstanding leader; brave and bold and had the future of the bar at the centre of everything he did. It was an incredible privilege to work with him. For what it is worth, in my view we would not be in the position we are in now without his grit and determination.
FILM OF THE WEEK:
1917 – A modern classic
Onwards and upwards