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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Saturday, 10 May 2014

WITNESS SCREENS

I was back in court yesterday for the first time in three weeks but hardly enthused by the experience.  Following on from my previous post I am increasingly disturbed by the dismantling of what used  to be called the level playing field of justice.  This government in a not unexpected attempt to appeal to its UKIP leaning right wing supporters and using the financial melt down as excuse has made and is making determined efforts to show that it is hard on crime and hard on those who commit crime. The latest announcements on two knife crimes and you`re out of circulation seeks to overturn the sensible directions under Povey. See my blog 02/09/2011.  

There are other insidious changes now so routine that younger colleagues find it strange that I question them when they arise in court.  Yesterday we had inter alia   a first listing of assault in a cafe.  The complainant and defendant were strangers.  Indeed the former was a visitor to the town and she lived over a hundred miles distant.  When we were completing the case management form CPS told us she was considering safety measures  (screens) for her and we allowed 28 days for her to make an application.  My colleagues in later discussion questioned why I had indicated reluctance to the concept.  Screens are available if the quality of the evidence of the witness is likely to be enhanced by the protection offered. Historically an accuser was expected to face the accused.  Increased concern with domestic violence cases a decade ago ensured that virtually any application in such cases was nodded through.  Now it seems that it is becoming increasingly the norm for screens to be applied for in the most common of assault cases such as above.  IMHO this is a cause for disquiet. How many more of a defendant`s rights are to be surreptitiously withdrawn, withheld or to be rendered meaningless?    

1 comment:

  1. The balance between the accused's right to face their accuser and need to ensure that the best evidence is presented is a difficult one to strike. Every case must be treated on it's own merits and if that results in more use of screens overall then so be it. If a screen is deemed in the interest of justice then a screen should be used.

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