A Crown Court somewhere in England and Wales in the days after the Lord Chancellor has banned paper. The courts have gone digital. The case of Regina v Sinclair is called on. Her Honour Judge Anna Logg QC presides.
HHJ: Who prosecutes this case?
Counsel rises to his feet
Pros: I do, Your Honour.
HHJ: Why have you not signed in on Xhibit, Mr Sugar?
Pros: The computer was down in the robing room, Your Honour…..again. I should say that m’learned friend Mr Babbage defends.
HHJ: Very well. Mr Babbage, I understand that this is your pre-trial application to exclude evidence?
Def: Correct. I assume Your Honour received my skeleton argument?
HHJ: No, Mr Babbage, I have not received a skeleton.
Def: I emailed it to the Crown Court Office over a week ago, Your Honour.
HHJ: That will explain it. The Crown Court Office is the Bermuda Triangle of correspondence.
Pros: I emailed mine directly to Your Honour, I hope you received it.
HHJ: Yes I did, Mr Sugar, thank you…..
Mr Sugar swells with pride and nods a little condescendingly at Mr Babbage
HHJ: ….but I could not open the attachment. Apparently it was not a compatible format with the old Judicial laptop. So, Mr Babbage, perhaps you would like to direct me to the evidence objected to.
Def: Your Honour it is the evidence of the witness Alan Turing, served by NAE last month.
HHJ: Do you have a page number?
Def: Yes, Your Honour, it is page 73 of the deps.
HHJ: My papers only run to 69. Mr Sugar, can you supply me with a paper copy of the statement?
HHJ: That is not very helpful Mr Sugar….
Pros: I don’t mean to be unhelpful, it’s just that there isn’t a paper copy. This file is entirely digital. So I don’t have one to just hand to you.
HHJ: (sounding exasperated) So how am I able to view this statement?
Pros: I can email it to Your Honour (counsel blushes) and this time it will be a PDF so there should be no comparability issues.
HHJ: Very well, Mr Sugar.
Counsel sits and begins to type at his laptop. Silence fills the courtroom. Time seems to stop.
HHJ: I thought email was meant to be a rapid form of communication, Mr Sugar…..
Pros: It is, it’s just that I can’t get on to the court wifi. Seems Your Honour’s courtroom is a blackspot…..
Babbage takes delight at being able to intervene
Def: My iPad is picking up the wifi from the coffee shop over the street so I have been able to email it to Your Honour.
Pros: (leaping to his feet and speaking urgently) STOP!
HHJ: (testily) Mr Sugar!! There is no problem with Mr Babbage assisting the court in this way…..
Pros: Its not that, Your Honour. The lights have gone out.
HHJ: Well Mr Sugar, I have had heard it suggested that the lights are on but no one’s at home but have never been accused of my lights having gone out.
Pros: Not Your Honour’s lights….the clock. The red clock at the front of court. If it goes off we are not being recorded.
The clerk stands and whispers to the Judge. The clerk then disappears under the desk and the sound of plugs being unplugged and reinserted are heard. The clock flickers back on
HHJ: At least nothing of any note has been missed in all that. And now I do have the statement, so thank you Mr Babbage and the wifi facility offered by “Bump and Grind” coffee shop. Now, what is your objection to the statement.
Def: The first ground is the late service of the statement. Your Honour will see that the statement is dated three months ago but was only served last month.
The Judge raises her hand
HHJ: That should be easy enough, I am sure there is a relatively straightforward explanation for the delay. Mr Sugar?
Pros: I am instructed the delay was caused by the statement being twiffed to the CPS by the officer……
Pros: Yes, twiffed. That is when the officer places a document in the case on the case tree…..
HHJ: Case tree?
Pros: Yes, when a document is electronically transferred from the police to the CPS it appears on the “case tree”. The case tree is where the documents are kept, electronically. Now the problem is that when the officer “twiffs” the document on to the tree the file name that the officer has given the document disappears. It gets relabelled “Document 1”. It being the first document twiffed on that occasion. So if documents are twiffed on more than one occasion EVERY document is called “Document 1” so the caseworker has no idea that a new document has arrived. It is a case of not being able to see the would-be statement for the electronic trees.
HHJ: I am sure that makes sense to somebody somewhere. Is the long and the short of it that the police system and the CPS system do not talk the same language?
Pros: That fairly sums it up, if I may say so.
The Judge pauses and seems to sniff
HHJ: Can I smell burning?
Pros: (looks down) Errrr yes, Your Honour. It would appear that my CPS-issue laptop has spontaneously combusted…..
HHJ: Gentleman I am going to rise until such time as the technology allows us to make progress with this case. May I suggest that a Mr Caxton invented something that seemed to fit the technological demands of the courtroom?