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MISSING PERSONS AD: Where are the Judges?

View profile for Paul Harris
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The Criminal Justice System is collapsing for a number of different reasons.

One of the main problems though is cases are being constantly delayed and inappropriately put off because of a lack of Judges to try cases.

We had a case a listed at the Old Bailey last week for mention by the court because the Court do not have a Judge to try the case fixed for this week.

It is an attempted murder where the Complainant suffered very serious injuries.  The Defendant is in custody and has been so  since arrest.

The case has been put back for six weeks and now Defence Counsel cannot do it.  No mention was made of availability of witnesses when re-fixing the Hearing and of course whilst this mention was taking place eight out of the nineteen Courts at the Central Criminal Court in London sat vacant.

The above example is taking place at Courts all over the country.  Historically it is not out of the question for fixtures to be put off or be re-listed because cases have overrun etc. but that is not the case here, there are a large number of part-time Judges (recorders) who are available to try matters who are not being deployed simply because the Ministry of Justice wish to save money.

Justice is being delayed and denied because the Ministry refuse to fund those most important to an effective Justice System, the Judiciary to work and perform their crucial role.

Today at Nottingham Crown Court the Recorder of Nottingham has despaired that short cases cannot be listed for trial before August 2020. He described it as a disgrace for the alleged victim and for the Defendant.

The irony is that the MOJ have spent many millions of pounds on improving technology in the Criminal Justice System. Whilst they have done this the Court estate has slowly eroded with most courts in a state of physical decay barely fit for purpose and of course by making cuts to judicial provision the very essence of a fair and robust system is weakened. After all justice is about people, the state prosecuting the accused being tried by his/her peers and the judiciary?

What is the answer?  The system where half the Courts are unoccupied is not the way forward.  When we hear about the current Home Secretary planning on investing in 20,000 new Police Officers (the ones that this party laid off) one wonders what her plan is with the extra work such an increase will generate.

Without commensurate investment in the other stakeholders involved in the Criminal Justice System you will have nobody to prosecute such cases and nobody to try them.  Perhaps Miss Patel’s plan is to go straight from arrest by the Police Officer to sentence by another police officer, the Custody Officer.

The question is what should we all do?

Why should we continue to put up with this nonsense?  Why should Complainants and witnesses have to wait many months before their cases are concluded, increasing the stress that such cases cause, delaying the opportunity for them to have closure.  Why should they have to continue to put up with that?

Why should the Police and prosecutors and those who bring the cases to Court constantly have their diaries inconvenienced because notwithstanding the very many empty Court rooms available to try cases there are simply not the Judges to try them?

Why should Defence Lawyers continue to put with this?  The payment structure for Defence Advocates is such that if they do not ultimately act as advocate in the Trial that they have worked so hard on preparing they receive very little payment indeed.  Why is that fair?

The above scenario is just one of many examples of a Criminal Justice System that has been abandoned by successive Governments.

The Overriding Objective of the Criminal Procedure Rules as set out in Part 1 of said rules includes a requirement that cases are dealt with both efficiently and expeditiously.

Yet as crime rates increase conviction rates decrease and the resources of those all employed in delivering justice are further restricted.

The Judiciary know what is happening from the very senior Judges to lay Magistrates and District Judges all of whom equally play an important role in the delivery of justice.

In the meantime we the stakeholders need to take practical steps to address the above, register our protests and make sure there is greater regulation and scrutiny of the Courts acting on behalf of the Ministry of Justice in constantly delaying and by virtue of doing so partly denying Justice.

What steps can we take?

  1. Demand that there is greater care taken in ensuring judicial availability when cases are fixed.
  2. Insist possibly by virtue of an amendment to the Criminal Procedural Rules or Practise Directions that when Defendants are in custody their bail position is automatically reviewed when cases are put off.
  3. Create a proper procedure for vacating fixtures.
  4. The Ministry of Justice must immediately be asked to confirm how many cases are being fixed and then adjourned through the lack of Judiciary capacity.
  5. In the most serious cases Defendants are frequently losing their Counsel who they have met on a number of occasions.  Whilst historically this scenario does occasionally arise it is happening far more now through the Ministry of Justice’s refusal to properly fund the Judiciary. 

This should not be allowed to continue. The professions must lobby their professional bodies to make a stand. Everyone with an interest in the Criminal Justice System is affected by the above which undermines the Rule of Law and our Criminal Justice System.