Monday Message 09.12.19
Caroline Goodwin QC
A CHRISTMAS GIVEAWAY:
The presentation of statistics can be a shady business. They can be twisted, slanted and manipulated to present a different picture depending upon what emphasis is applied. Statistics do not represent the picture when it comes to analysing the consequences of the continued adjournments and delays occurring at the courts. The over use of individuals being released under investigation and the closure of courts means that repeatedly those who ought to be facing the consequences of their actions such as domestic burglary are avoiding either charge or sentence. Recently, I have had counsel come up to me and say that sentences have been taken out of the list at the last minute, with the result that their client who was facing a custodial sentence for domestic burglary is now adjourned beyond the Christmas period. This is sending out entirely the wrong message. The execution of law, order and justice can only operate if the courts are sitting. The political rhetoric is hollow and is akin to the. Emperors new clothes. Real life burglars must be wringing their hands with Christmas glee at the moment.
The travesty goes on. Kingston Crown Court had five courts closed on Friday 29th November, with two more closed by 3pm. St. Albans 4th December, two courts not sitting, HHJ Warner apparently being sent on enforced holiday until April. Counsel writes that a trial which had previously been a fixture in August 2019 and was not heard for lack of court time was not reached a second time and now has gone off until 31st March. Well that’s all right Jack.
Inner London Crown Court: four courts sitting out of 13.
Just to add to the misery that is our courts, again at St Albans, a mention and fix of a historic case had the following sorry impact. An extremely serious historic sex case whose fixture was not honoured due to a lack of court sitting days left both the victims and defendant in a dreadful state. They only found out on the Friday before the Monday trial that the case was not being listed. The defendant was elderly. The list office said there would be a 6 month delay before the new trial date. The local head of CPS RASSO became involved as the complainants were exceptionally distressed and unable to support such a long delay. The result was another ‘priority’ case was bumped. Priority ought to be redefined, how many priorities can there be and who broke the news to the other priority that was deprioritised?
HOT COURTING ST ALBANS:
Apologies to St Albans but on a recent Monday a junior member of chambers was in a floater. The case was not reached and pushed to Wednesday. On Tuesday pm the jury in another case was sent out being sent out again first thing Wednesday. The judge was sharing a court with another judge due to lack of court sitting days. The same junior was again floating on Wednesday but the Judge with the jury out could not hear the floater due to the lack of court sitting days. By 3pm the junior was still waiting around. Eventually, a court was found. Two days of waiting around. That junior barristers diary for the week ruined. Well that’s all right Jack, provided you don’t ask the complainants in that case or ask the barrister how they were going to manage financially. This is what is grandiosely described as our justice system.
We know that listing is under pressure and everyone is trying to balance a very difficult problem, but counsel is being placed under professional pressure that is simply unsustainable. Increasingly counsel is being asked to attend at 10am with some vague hope that a case will be reached. It would not feel so bad but for the fact that it is a known that there are Judges in rooms doing box work and courts are sitting empty. Counsel and defendants are waiting from 10am until 4 pm. It gives the decided impression of being a thoughtless approach. Add in the feature of a train strike. Fair? Efficient? Reasonable?
Finally: Leicester Crown Court.
Defendant charged with handling and money laundering offences. Remanded into custody. CTLs expire 11th May 20. Trial fixed 1st September 20 (1 month time estimate). The trial could be heard by a Recorder. Reduced sitting producing another winner.
How would a statistician approach the above?
FACE FACTS, FACE REALITY, the public deserves and requires more sitting days. It is such a simple solution….provided of course that the buildings are still standing.
THE COURT ESTATE:
Maidstone Crown Court: Imagine the scene. Counsel signs in on the computer on the 3 rd floor and can hear an odd noise. It took a while before they realised it was coming from a large kitchen typerubbish bin – water was dripping in from the ceiling past a mass of wires – the bin was almost full of rancid brown water. It still hasn’t been fixed 5 weeks later.
In addition, for the first 4 weeks the ladies on the 2nd floor was out of order! Has anyone heard of health and safety never mind basic hygiene?
And the icing on the cake, a fire caused by a portable electric heater brought in when the heating system failed. Followed the next day by a failure to book any interpreters.
Last week, Leeds, Hove, Canterbury and Inner London Crown Courts either closed or cases were moved to other courts owing to heating and water failures. Once again the irony being that Inner Crown Court moved its cases to Blackfriars Crown Court, a modern purpose built court sold off and about to close.
And so as with the rain, comes leaks and floods and as with winter, comes heating breakdowns and now fires. Some might say it is predictable.
More mundane, it appears Coventry Crown Court cannot even get lightbulbs.
This is not acceptable.
COURT SECURITY PASS:
This was designed to make life more efficient, but the infrastructure is lacking.
The Maidstone machine we are told is constantly charging because it doesn’t support the use for any period of time – so every other day it cannot be used. Wood Green is limited to certain times ie after 9am and St Alban’s has had a machine that has not been working for weeks and weeks and no replacement in sight. It seems at several courts it is only available between certain times. Please send in details if any of you have had problems with the system.
This week’s winner is Tom Schofield at No 5 with a second place of a bottle going to Diana Wilson from 9 Bedford Row. Look, its Christmas and after what they have been reporting they will need it and, in any event, Christmas comes but once a year.
Two more magnums to giveaway before Christmas. .
FILM OF THE WEEK:
Difficult choice, I have to say. People have suggested Frozen 2; there is of course A Muppet Christmas Carol. Shrek 2 is hilarious and if I am allowed to revert to a classic, you cannot beat Great Expectation. Miss Havisham’s dining room looks like much of the court estate.
Onwards and upwards