Monday, 12 December 2011

Stop delaying justice !

Salford Magistrates Court - closes end of 2011
"Stop Delaying Justice" is a new initiative in the Magistrates' Courts and will take effect from 1st January 2012.  The excellent materials available from Crimeline explain this more and comment that - "It is clear that this approach is not actually new, as it is founded on almost a decade of case law and statutory rules. What this package does is bring those strands together to present a coherent analysis of the way in which criminal litigation must now be conducted."

The Magistrates' Blog (Bystander) comments:

"A lot depends on good teamwork between the Legal Adviser and the parties, but if it works (as it needs to) it will go a significant way towards helping courts to do more cases with fewer resources."

The Justice of the Peace blog  tells us (rightly) that
this is the latest in a series of initiatives all supposedly aimed at speeding up the summary justice process - remember CJSSS?  However, the writer is very critical of this latest development.

Crimeline is of course correct to say that the new initiative is based on case law and statutory rules - in particular, the Criminal Procedure Rules.   In recent years, considerable case law has developed which has impinged on both sides to a criminal trial but it is probably fair to say that many of the decisions have tended to redress the balance in the favour of the prosecution.

The Criminal Procedure Rules - Rule 1 - begins:

(1) The overriding objective of this new code is that criminal cases be dealt with justly.
(2) Dealing with a criminal case justly includes―
(a)     acquitting the innocent and convicting the guilty; .... etc.

A recent example is the case of Payne v South Lakeland Magistrates Court [2011] EWHC 1802 where, at a trial on a speeding charge, the prosecutor failed to adduce evidence of the speed of the vehicle.  This was a "windfall" for the defendant but it had nothing to do with the merits.  The High Court ruled that the Magistrates were right to allow the prosecution to re-open its case in order to allow the evidence to be produced.   From a reading of the judgment in this case, it will be seen that the case law is replete with statements such as:

"Criminal proceedings are not a game: their object is to achieve a fair determination of the innocence or guilt of the defendant." - Hughes v DPP [2003] EWHC Admin 2470 at para. 16

"the overall interests of justice include giving effect to the requirement that a prosecution should not fail through inefficiency, carelessness or oversight."

"Magistrates  should pay great attention to the need for expedition in the prosecution of criminal proceedings; delays are scandalous; they bring the law into disrepute; summary justice should be speedy justice; an application for an adjournment should be rigorously scrutinised."

Interestingly, the South Lakeland case involved a defendant represented by a very experienced criminal solicitor.  One is left to wonder how, given the legal situation in Magistrates' Courts, the many unrepresented defendants will cope.  They will not be attending courses on "Stop delaying justice" and it will be incumbent on Judges, Magistrates and Legal Advisers to ensure that their rights - including procedural rights - are honoured.  In other words to ensure that each and every defendant receives a "fair trial " (Article 6) and not just those able to afford costly legal representation. 

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