Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.





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Wednesday, 4 December 2013

HOW MUCH LONGER?



Much if not most of the activity at a magistrates` court trial depends upon the Crown Prosecution Service presenting its evidence in order that a conviction is secured against a defendant where the charge has been considered to be in the public interest and that there is a reasonable chance of that conviction.  Therefore when the CPS stumbles the court procedures fall down.  In short that is why so much of the content here is critical of that organisation and current government policy to emasculate its ability to undertake the joint most important function for a democratic civil society the other being the defence of the citizenry against invasion.

A recent sitting was further evidence of why this government under its present policy is not fit to control and operate our justice system.  For starters, as is increasingly common, CPS was represented by an outside barrister whose first sight of her trial bundles was, as she told us, 6.30p.m. the previous evening.  There is little doubt that her fees would have exceeded the cost of CPS having been able to supply its own lawyer except it has sacked 10% of them.  There were two trials scheduled. A single defendant charged with criminal damage and assault is a common combination, a bit like peaches and cream.  Also, as is common per the case management form, a single live prosecution witness  (the complainant) was expected.  At 10.15a.m. he had not appeared.  We allowed the prosecutor ten  minutes to make her inquiries subsequent to which we were informed that a letter from CPS had been sent four weeks previously to said complainant with full details of trial date etc followed about a week later with a personal visit by somebody from the witness care unit and some unknown days later another visit by a police officer.  The complainant was not at his home address on either of these occasions but the information was made clear to a family member.  The witnesses`s phone was switched off when the CPS barrister called him direct.  Unsurprisingly she applied for an adjournment which was refused.  No evidence being offered the case was dismissed.  

This was a low level matter.  The alleged criminal damage was minimal and the alleged assault was at the lowest level of harm and culpability.  There was no independent witness and had the trial proceeded it would have been on the opposing evidence of the parties.  Indeed our L/A later told us that the defendant was of good character.  My point is why with the history as above was it not abandoned at an earlier stage when it was clear that the witness was likely to be unavailable?  I would posit that the reviewing system is failing.

Our second matter was assault in a domestic context. CPS Guidance for such matters is widely known.  Proper procedures had been put in place for the trial which was going to be his word against hers.  Application for special measures (screens) were within the time  limits, there were no problems on disclosure, the bench had granted a witness summons at the first listing for the CPS to use at its discretion (which it indeed had done) to secure the attendance of the complainant who had meantime written a withdrawal statement.  But surprise, surprise:  the complainant did not appear; had not been contacted between her initial statement and day of trial except informing a police officer when submitting her withdrawal statement that she would not testify against her husband.  Once again the CPS did not wish to proceed on hearsay and the charge was dismissed.

The above is not a unique pair of events.  It is typical of the reality of a morning in a trial court. Domestic violence (assault) in addition to being a miserable event for the parties is a political football.  Cases IMHO are being pursued where that consideration is proving a greater driver than those normally used to evaluate the prospects of a prosecution.  For how much longer is this sad scenario to be allowed to continue?

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