Monday Message 14.10.19

Chair’s Update:
Caroline Goodwin QC

 

 

 

RELEASED UNDER INVESTIGATION:

I make no apology for the slightly longer MM.

Let us have a little straight talking. Released under investigation is a means of avoiding charging people at the appropriate moment. It avoids judicial control, previously managed by the Bail Act and has become a charter for delay. It is being abused and is being applied in simple cases, not just those of complexity requiring more time.

RUI is regularly being used for reported serious crimes and yet suspects are being released back into the public without any of the restrictions that apply to bail.

Protecting the public from harm is a basic, core duty any government has to the public and quite rightly the public expect that duty to be fulfilled. The current overuse and abuse of the release under investigation system does not protect the public from harm. Unhappily there is an argument to say RUI only serves to maintain harm or in many cases allow for greater and more frequent acts of harm.

The public are being let down; those who report crime, those who may be victims of crime and those who are accused of crime but are left unable to clear their name. Protection means protection – nothing less will do; the system should not promote situations where suspects are released without follow up; matters should be properly investigated, in a timely manner and using bail where appropriate.

The non – strategic parsimonious approach to the saving of money by the government is simply allowing for the pushing into the “to do” tray the millions of crimes reported each year. Fewer charges means fewer prosecutions, means fewer trials, means fewer convictions, means fewer numbers sent to prison – for now at least – saving costs for the treasury at every stage. Who picks up the real bill for all these savings? The general public.

We pay the price in the human loss of suffering from violence to the person or sexual assaults reported but not charged. We pay the emotional and monetary price for losses from fraud, theft, robbery and burglary, being reported in ever greater numbers but not charged. Why is the general public being let down in this way?

Let me be clear – at present, the rate of 7.8% of all crimes reported to police resulting in a charge or summons is simply unacceptable. Exactly how is the general public to have faith in our criminal justice system? That rate has broadly halved in under a decade. The meteoric rise in the use by police forces up and down the country by way of cases treated as released under investigation, is a distortion of the reality.

Fewer prosecutions does not mean less crime is being committed – quite the reverse. More crimes are being reported and yet fewer are being prosecuted. Independent official figures from the home office, the ministry of justice and office of national statistics all provide the hard evidence pointing to an overuse indeed a likely abuse of released under investigation.

The consequences are all too obvious. Those who may have committed reported crimes, and yet not charged but just let out without any judicial control may well feel they can just “get away with it”. Those who maintain their innocence, may well be left with their reputations in pieces as they wait for what feels like an indefinite period to clear their name, unsure if charges will even be brought

Anyone who thinks that this is an improvement, is deluding themselves.

No matter which way one turns within the criminal justice system, the situation is the same. Avoid charge, delay listing trials and should there be a trial date, take it out of the list the night before, lest it disturbs the so- called efficiency figures. We see this every working day.

It is nothing short of a scandal and perhaps if the general public were aware of the types of cases where suspects are being treated as RUI, or alternatively where suspects ought to have had the threat of proceedings lifted, they might have something to say, after all it could be them under investigation.

The following are straight forward cases. Not complex in anyway. There is no excuse for failing to make a decision.

The information was provided in confidence. Thank You.

WHY HAVE THE FOLLOWING BEEN TREATED AS RUI – SCENARIO 1:

Police set up an internet sting, an officer running a false identification in a chat room where there is the revelation that they are a child. Suspect presses on with the most obvious of communications, clearly designed to lead to sexual contact. Arranges to meet at a given location, attends the location to take the child to hotel. Arrested by adult officer. Makes full admissions in interview.  RUI……WHY?

SCENARIO 2:

Allegation of rape. Suspect interviewed. Straight forward case. Admits sex has taken place but was with consent. No telephone evidence, no forensic.

RUI and still RUI some 6 months post interview. WHY? The case is either good enough to try or it is not. Put the suspect out of his misery, let the complainant know what is going on.

SCENARIO 3:

Grievous bodily Harm. Brawl, kicking, beating in context of drunken row. CCTV. Medical evidence confirming severe injuries. No issue as to identification. Suspect dealt with by RUI……WHY?

This is a deeply worrying and disturbing trend. Violent offenders ought to be subject to judicial monitoring to prevent reoffending, likewise sexual offenders particularly where they have a history of offending.

Massaging the figures provides little comfort to those families, who have lost loved ones to violent individuals who have been released under investigation, in-spite of a relevant history. This is a failing of monumental proportion. The public deserve better. They should feel safe on the streets, not be preyed upon by repeat opportunistic muggers who have been given carte blanche to reoffend. Political chuntering about being serious on crime starts at the grass roots, it does not start as an attractive strap line for an ambitious politician who sees the “get tough” line as a vote winner. If you want success you need to invest. Action not words are required.

The above approach of not charging where appropriate, has been one of the factors which has led to the reduced sitting days. In the year ending March 2018, 443,000 crimes resulted in a charge or summons out of 4.6 million offences. March 2019, the figure fellto 403,000 crimes resulting in charge or summons out of 4,786,329 offences. The total number of offences actually reported for the year ending March 2019 was 5,179,038. Spot the trend?

If you want to spend an afternoon absorbing the figures for yourselves, click on “Home Office Crime outcomes in England and Wales: year ending March 2019” In simple terms reported crime is going up but that which is being charged by some miracle is falling. Perhaps we should have another set of statistics called, “sitting days yet to come” Heaven help us when the decisions to proceed to trial are made. I suspect that the skill set of sitting as a Recorder in the Criminal Court will have been lost given that there has been a drive to send Recorders trained in crime to sit in family cases.

Is no one brave enough to make a simple decision? If a case is not worthy of prosecution, say so. If it should be charged, charge it, resource it and give it a court to be tried in.
That of course leads me to the:

SPOT THE RECORDER COMPETITION:

20 recorders sitting today 14th October, one of whom is running part heard. Shame on the MOJ. Shame.

NO COURT AVAILABLE…………..REALLY?

The following has been brought to our attention. It joins the harmful list of cases that were said to be “priority” and yet not treated as such.

A child, under 4 years old, is the subject of a rape allegation. ABE interview conducted within the week, December 2017. Defendant interviewed January 2018. Postal requisition July 2019. That is a staggering 19 months later.

The Crown Court had no court available for trial until May 2020.

Yet there are court rooms sitting empty, day in day out, the backlog is just being pushed further and further into the long grass. At trial, that child will be just under 6 years old yet will be expected to deal with matters nearly half their lifetime ago.

Shame.

There is no excuse but there is one simple answer. Open up the courts.

There are more examples and we will keep publishing them. Stop the hyperbole, stop the posturing and please listen.

And picking up on that theme of shame and embarrassment, consider please our working conditions.

THE COURT ESTATE:

I would have liked to start with, the phrase akin to those that the estate agents use…..“a desirable property”. I don’t think so. It is just another example of the race to the bottom.

Maidstone Crown Court:

  • Both PCU and Gov wifi have been reported as inadequate- ABE interviews, contrary to practice have had to be played by DVD which needed to be collected from Canterbury.
  • Clickshare did not work.
  • The heating in the court could not be controlled and a single fan was available whilst the defendant gave his evidence in conditions described as fetid. The judge and counsel were not robed.
  • Public Ladies lavatory on the second floor out of order.
  • Public ladies lavatory on first floor, one was blocked and the door lock was broken on the other
  • The ladies’ lavatory (in the singular) in the female robing room has been described as revolting. There was insufficient funding to re-decorate the robing rooms and lavatories etc. There was a “whip-round” to which the advocates contributed (in order to purchase materials). The work was done by individuals carrying out community service.
  • One of the two public lifts was not working. The emergency phone is not connected.
  • There was a theft from the robing room

Leeds Crown Court:

  • Reported that only one ladies lavatory working in the whole of the public part of the building during the summer

Taunton Crown Court:

  • Collapsed ceiling in chambers
  • External masonry falling from the outside of the building, damaging a car
  • Collapsed ceiling in the clerk’s room
  • Cracked glass in the entrance, leading to closure of the same for two years before there was a repair
  • Broken jury seats, including a juror falling through a broken jury seat
  • Rotten floorboards in the witness box, causing a witness to fall through the floorboards
  • Leaking water through the ceiling fusing the smoke alarms, repairs are pending
  • Plaster constantly falling in court one

Wood Green Crown Court:

  • Specialty of raw sewage on the ground floor

Why is this seen as acceptable?

Stop neglecting the criminal justice system.

AND NOW A BOOK GIVEAWAY:

You put up with a lot in your working lives so finally a little something for the person who emails in with the answer to the following question:

Q: How many criminal courts are capable of sitting in Croydon, Inner London, Harrow, Preston, Manchester, Minshall street and St Albans?

The speedy responder will receive a copy of: “Tackling Disclosure in the Criminal courts: A Practitioners Guide”

Next week:
S 28.  Please email in your experiences on this topic. Is it working? What are your concerns as practitioners.

AND NOW FILM OF THE WEEK:

THE THIRD MAN

Go on, it is raining outside and you have been working for many hours; you have received the news that without any notice to you or the relevant witnesses in your trial, both prosecution and defence, that without even the courtesy of being consulted or being allowed to make representations your trial has been taken out. Go and watch something that is terrific. I wonder if Harry was really released under investigation?

Onwards and upwards

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