Monday Message 07.10.19

Chair’s Update:
Caroline Goodwin QC

 

 

 

DO YOU REALLY ASPIRE TO SIT?

Because, if you do you will have to search hard. Very hard.

On Thursday 3rd October, only 12 Crown Court Recorders were sitting up and down the country. In central London there was one at Woolwich and one at Blackfriars. That was it. Mighty Sheffield boasted two Recorders, plainly on a roll.

This is penny pinching beyond belief at a considerable cost to those who need to have cases resolved.

Friday 4th October the number of Recorders had increased to 25, some for reserved sentences only. Today, 7th October, there are 26 Recorders sitting in total. One doing a single sentence and one running over.

Why is there no capability to sit a Recorder in the following court centres Liverpool, Leeds, Snaresbrook, Inner London, Southwark, Wood Green, Newcastle? Could it be because those court centres and others are having forced on them reduced sitting?

THE WHEELS OF JUSTICE TURN SLOWLY……PARTICULARLY WHEN THE COURTS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SIT:

Turn away those of you who thought that there would be a “good news” message.

Would we be far off the mark if we thought that there was some sort of Faustian pact between the MOJ and the LAA to keep costs artificially down? A continued review of the facts and figures begins to point very clearly in that direction. Has no one worked out that all that is happening is that cases not being reached are just being put off? Oh, and don’t pretend there are no cases in the pipeline, the numbers released under investigation is frankly dangerously high. More on that topic next week.

FORECLOSURE OF THE CRIMINAL COURTS:

It has been another brilliant week for those operating the courts administration. Forget witnesses, forget complainants, forget the legitimate concerns raised about delayed trials.

Cast your eye over the following figures. Appalling.

Thursday 3rd October: Central Criminal Court did not open the following courts: Ct 2,3,4,7,12,16,17 and 18.

Friday 4th October: Ct 3,4,12,16,17 and 18, no sitting. This is no small provincial court. We better put a blindfold over the statue of lady justice so she cannot see what is going on.

Elsewhere: Friday 4th October:

  • Carlisle sat one court.
  • Snaresbrook: Courts 2,3,5,7,12 and 16 not sitting
  • Southwark: Courts 7, 8, 10, 14, 15 not sitting.
  • Teesside Crown Court only four courts sitting.
  • Manchester Crown, courts 3,4, 6,8 and 12 not sitting.
  • Manchester Minshull Street, court 5 is listed as “National Justice Museum”. Today, 7th October, the museum has been packed up and moved to court 6. I hope the irony is not lost on you all. It is priceless given the situation we are in.

Forget what has gone on in the past re backlogs and alleged improvements. Stop glad handing and look at today’s mess. Just why is this approach seen as acceptable by way of delay?

I say penny pinching, as at Maidstone Crown Court, on Friday, only Court 8 sat. Courts 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 had the lights switched off. Likewise, Canterbury where only the High Court Judge was left sitting.

Consider this; if the judiciary had to be elsewhere, why could the fully qualified and ready Recorders who were waiting in the wings not do that work? May I suggest it is because the delay and the increasing backlog does not matter. If we adopt the appropriate language and argue the “business case for sitting”, what is the proxy that we have to use for the human misery this is costing? Is it only pounds, shillings and pence that count?

Let us pause and look at the human cost. In a small court centre, the cuts are crippling and devastating. When one court is sitting in a two-court centre, then a single court has the herculean task to deal with all hearings in addition to its listed trial. Anyone can examine those lists. Before the trial starts there are PVL hearings, bail applications, sentences both reserved and newly listed and finally the trial. We know because we see it. Jury, witnesses and counsel hang around for hours. It is all too easy to lose half a day here and there. This affects everyone. A 6 – day case moves to 10 days and if anyone says that is not right, it is they who are wrong. The knock – on effect is that Counsel has to return work listed for following week, thus doing fewer trials, fewer brief fees for work prepared to great financial detriment. Witnesses are let down. I have had reported to me that in Swindon they are adding on, for proper practical reasons an extra day to time estimates to accommodate this so called “economy”. Well they better add a week, as today, 7th October 2019, Swindon is not sitting either of its courts. I have said it before, and I will say it again……GENIUS! Let’s make a mountain out of a molehill.

CASES COMING OUT:

The sooner the pretence goes as to the accuracy of the MOJ figures the better. The figures are fickle and inaccurate. Smoke and mirrors. Cases are being pulled the night before as there is not a hope that they will be reached. That means that there is no risk that the court statistics can reflect the true position of an ineffective trial. Answer: Seek a Recorder.

On the other hand, consider the following case for a catalogue of unacceptable decisions.

Drugs importation case. Original trial late January 2019. Re – trial necessary re – trial listed Newcastle Crown Court for Monday 9th September 2019 as a fixture. The case came into the list as a floater, yes that’s right a floater. All other courts were busy with cases involving sexual allegations. There were at least 4 other floating trials. At around 2.30 – 3pm listing told counsel that the court was going to apply for a Recorder to deal with that case or another priority floater in which the defendant was heavily pregnant. Defence counsel was told by listing, that Counsel would need to decide between themselves who should go first. Defending counsel very properly deferred to the trial with the pregnant defendant. The next available date for this trial is said to be 29th October 2019. Apparently, it is priority. I have heard that before.

Too little too late. What a waste. Why was there no ability to apply the previous week for a Recorder? Why should counsel, the police, the witnesses, the solicitors, the defendants be put in this position? Why should the listing officer be put in that incredibly difficult position?

What is going on, why is this acceptable?

We do not want to keep reading government reports/ accounts that say “haven’t we done well” the fact is the present strategy being adopted is failing very badly. Do something about it please.
Getting tough on crime means paying more than lip service. Stop the rhetoric. There is a simple answer. Invest in the whole system. Join the dots. Open the courts. Try the outstanding cases, recruit police, make working in a legal aid practice as a young solicitor viable, make the prospect of being a young barrister achievable, stop crucifying the very people needed to do the job. Do something now before it is too late.

VISITS:

On Friday I made a whistle stop tour of the LAPG conference in Birmingham and caught up, literally with Karen Buck MP. She is great voice for Legal Aid and Access to Justice. I am going to meet with her, and I hope Bob Neil MP and others. It is vital that we engage with all who actually care about our faltering system. The topics in the MM will be flagged up

On Friday evening I attended Wadham College courtesy of Laura Hoyano, senior research fellow in Law. We have a true ace in our pack when it comes to Laura. Not only for the research she has done for the CBA but her contribution to the pursuit of excellence. Here is someone who rightly feels education ought to be for everyone. Our thanks just don’t do justice to the time and real effort she has expended for us all.

FEES:

We are reminded that our action is suspended only following this summer’s interim offer, while we continue our engagement over the many outstanding fees issues.”

The CPS are considering the material generated by the discussion last week. Thank you to those who have given up huge tracts of time to try and take this forward.
We are obviously still in a period of engagement with MOJ and we will keep you updated.

I am not apologising for drafting such a long message. There is so much that needs highlighting and the CBA is committed to doing that.

Please keep sending in examplesof listing cases that have been victim of RUI, reduced sitting and anything you feel we need to be aware of. Do not remain silent.

HARASSMENT AND BULLYING:

The Association of Women Barristers’ have published their report examining Harassment and Bullying at the Bar. A number of recommendations are made throughout to combat this behaviour, including a move towards a  zero – tolerance attitude .  Read the report here.

The Bar Council have launched a new online tool for members of the Bar to confidentially report any harassment or bullying. Visit the website here.

NEXT WEEK:

  • RUI………ITS IMPACT FACTS AND FIGURES
  • THE STATE OF BUILDINGS
  • A BOOK GIVE AWAY
  • And of course, “DELAY DELAY DELAY”

FILM OF THE WEEK:

The Go Between – Julie Christie, Alan Bates. Haunting music, a period drama before it became fashionable.

It has to be on your list.

Onwards and upwards

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