Monday Message 30.09.19
Caroline Goodwin QC
OUR COURTS ARE LIKE THE ILL FATED SHIP, THE MARY CELESTE:
The Mary Celeste had a shadowy past. It had suffered a series of mishaps, accidents through mis-management, was given a new name to improve its image, was found drifting, abandoned, no hands on deck and subsequently had several different owners before it was deliberately run aground. Sound familiar?
Our courts are being treated in the same way.
Today, Kingston upon Thames Crown Court has 3 courts “not sitting”. I have been informed that for months now this court centre has not been sitting at its full capacity. On Thursday 5th September, only 4 courts out of its 12 were sitting. Just what is the rationale when the figures released for March 2019, showed a back log of 481 cases. The corridors are empty and complainants are repeatedly being told come back months later?
Inner London Crown Court, today 4 courts not sitting, yet its backlog was recorded as 777 cases in March 2019.
Reading Crown Court, counsel had a 5 day trial vacated. It had been listed as a 2nd floater, case not reached, gone off to March 2020. Today, two courts are not sitting.
Chester Crown Court, sexual offence trials being listed with a minimal time estimate as far away as late March 2020.
Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court is listing sexual offence trials in May 2020.
Teesside Crown Court, week of 16th September only one Judge sitting hearing crime, yet that court had recorded a backlog of 567 offences in March 2019. A further outrage at this court centre was where a trial for a young defendant with learning difficulties was taken out despite being listed for trial some six months ago. The reason for the case being vacated was there was no judge available in the week of the 16th. What happened to all the directives on priority listing for young people? Surely common sense would say, is there a Recorder available?
Bristol Crown Court, appears to take over 6 months to find a listing date for trials involving allegations of Rape.
Snaresbrook Crown Court, today, courts 4,7,8,11,12,13,16,19 not sitting. That’s the mighty Snaresbrook, with eight courts not sitting. Not much chance of sitting there if you are a Recorder it would seem and of course such an approach is really going to help the 1106 case backlog as recorded in March 2019.
Bradford Crown Court, today 4 criminal courts are lying idle.
In another case a barrister reported that an attempted burglary trial, with a CTL that expired 25/2/20, could only be accommodated by the court on 24/2/20
Is any of this serving criminal justice?
Who is benefitting other than some department that thinks that this is a true economy?
I suspect that if the “think tank” that came up with this and those who were part of it were the victim of a knife point robbery or were a complainant in a sexual offence they might think very differently if they were told;
“well, the suspect is released under investigation, it may take over a year to make any sort of charging decision and even then you would be looking at a further wait of up to a year before, after having been charged there will be a trial; Oh and we have to tell you that even though you will be warned as a witness to attend, another department may decide, without notice to vacate the trial in which you are a witness”.
BRAVO. Sheer brilliance.
Those in charge need to stop pretending, stop manipulating and stop massaging the figures to suit their agenda. Crime is on the increase. Didn’t you know?
CRIMINAL COURT STATISTICS:
Released for the period April to June 2019, show that there has been a 1% rise in the number of outstanding cases and the number of outstanding cases is 32,708. The obvious answer to deal with this is not to close courts but to open them up.
These political decisions do not make sense. If those in charge are really serious about victims of crime, let’s get serious about opening up the courts so they can be heard. Come on, it is not that difficult.
We continue to work with the press and broadcast media to bring these issues to the attention of the public. Episode 3 of Crime and Punishment screens tonight (Channel 4). The media has published extensively on the issue of the court sitting days crisis. Work continues apace this week on in depth pieces.
Please of the ridiculous listing problems and the real life impact this ‘political decision’ is having on all who have the misfortune of being involved in the criminal justice system – complainants, witnesses, defendants and the professionals doing their best to keep the show on the road. We need to know because the figures that are produced have little resemblance to reality on the ground, the delays and backlog of cases. The press needs these real life examples.
Those who have sent in information about cases released under investigation will feature in upcoming editions.
DON’T FORGET YOUR BSB OBLIGATION:
You will of course be all aware of the New BSB transparency rules. They came into force on 1st July 2019. Let me remind you of an important mandatory rule:
There are mandatory rules on price, service and redress transparency for all self-employed barristers, chambers and BSB entities, who must comply by providing information about price, service and redress on all of their websites……
The mandatory rules require you to:
- Provide information about the factors which might influence the timescales of the barrister’s, chambers’ or BSB entity’s most commonly provided legal services;”
I am sure the irony is not lost on you.
Perhaps we should adopt a generic statement for criminal chambers that says for practical purposes the only factor governing timescales in criminal cases is the government’s failure to properly fund courts and indicate that a client can expect to have his or her case cancelled with little or no notice because of lack of court time.
Just to keep you up to date, we have had and continue to have important meetings with both MOJ and CPS, the most recent being later this week. We are acutely aware of the timescales and we are working hard to deliver the much-needed improvements.
FILM OF THE WEEK:
I have been saving this. It is super brilliant and in light of all that is going on is at the moment is spot on.
The French Connection. Gene Hackman and Roy Schneider, 70’s New York. It doesn’t get much better.
Onwards and upwardsView more news