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Case Management in the Magistrates Court; A sham?

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My recent experiences of going to the Magistrates Court has left me wondering what the point of case management is. In all honesty, it feels like I am the victim of a deception at the hands of the Court and the Crown.  On the last two occasions, I have been to Westminster Magistrates Court for a contested matter. Each hearing has lasted a considerable amount of time as the case management form is completed and the court carry out a detailed enquiry into the issues of the case ensuring that everyone knows where they stand.

However, usually, within 28 days it is over.  

The crown fail to comply with the first direction of completing disclosure within 28 days and in both cases I was then met with a deafening wall of silence, both from the Crown and the Magistrates Court. Repeated chaser emails to the Crown simply yield no response and only in one case the Court, after several emails and phone calls, finally listed the matter for mention. In relation to the other case, we have heard nothing.

I have previously sat on the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee that helped draft and review these rules.  My experience of the committee then and my view of it now, is that of an extremely able committee, dedicated to improving the administration of justice and maintaining the objectives of the Criminal Procedure Rules.

However, frequently it is fair to say that a system where these rules would be effectively followed and adhered to is merely an aspiration (or misconception) and the reality is that compliance is the exception to the rule and enforcing compliance is near on impossible.

In truth, if either party, Defence or Crown, cannot comply with directions then they should notify the other party and seek additional time. This rarely happens.

However, it is extremely frustrating that the very Court that spent the best part of an hour going through every possible issue at the first hearing and looking for every opportunity to save time, then effectively resigns from its role in terms of supervising and enforcing case management.

Cheekily I wondered if it would be possible for us to list the specific Court that failed to take action when prompted by a party, to complain about noncompliance.

I wondered how such a rule might look; would I complain to the Crown Court about a Magistrates Court’s failure to take any action in relation to non-compliance. Who would then be summonsed to appear? Or would I go to the HMCTS or the Ministry of Justice?

The harsh reality of the situation is that the court, like the prosecution and the defence, are all   hugely under resourced and that is why the above state of affairs exists. It is for this reason that case management to a large extent begins and ends after the first hearing and is pretty much a sham and pointless.

Written by our Senior Partner, Paul Harris