A courtroom somewhere in England. Her Honour Judge Christine Jones-Smith presides. The case is listed for mention with the defendants to attend from custody. The Prosecution are represented by Mr Justin Messenger. The defence are represented by Miss Fi Owens and the ever busy Miss Rhea Turner.
The case is called on and only one defendant is produced in the dock. The present defendant is identified and the parties are introduced.
HHJ CJS: Miss Owens, where is your client?
MISS FO: I am told by the custody staff that he has not been put on the van. In fact my learned friend Miss Turner informs me that my client shares a cell with her client and when the officers came to their cell this morning they called upon the co-accused but, despite their insistence that they were both required, they only placed the co-accused on the bus.
HHJ CJS: I see, a case of “your name’s not down so you’re not coming out”…. never mind…. it is only 10 am, still plenty of time to get him here….
MISS FO: I have made enquiries and it is thought he could be here by 3pm.
HHJ CJS: 3pm!?! 3pm!?! The prison is less than four miles from here. Who says it will take them until 3pm?
MISS FO: I spoke to the staff downstairs who work for 3PO. They spoke to GeeForceAnnie who are the ones that bring them here. It took a while for them to speak to SecurGroupitas who run the prison. Apparently the next GeeForceAnnie van available is one that is currently delivering someone missed from yesterday’s list at the other end of the County and 3PO cannot speak to that van directly, because it is not their van, so SecurGroupitas have to contact GeeForceAnnie head office to get them to arrange it. All of which takes time. Apparently.
HHJ CJS: There seems little I can do about that so let’s see what progress we can make in his absence. Mr Messenger, this case is listed today to see if the problems that have beset this case have been ironed out. Now then, the defence have made several requests to have the exhibit in this case examined scientifically. The exhibit is a weapon is it not? In fact, a most unusual weapon. I believe the witnesses describe it as a “broadsword”. So Mr Messenger, has that examination now taken place?
MR JM: I am afraid not, Your Honour.
HHJ CJS: Why not, Mr Messenger?
MR JM: Because we’ve lost it….
HHJ CJS: I’m sorry Mr Messenger, did you just say you’ve lost it?
MR JM: Not me personally, I am only the messen…..the conduit for that information. It has been lost in the Police Property Store.
HHJ CJS: A broadsword?
MR JM: Yes, Your Honour.
HHJ CJS: The broadsword in this case? How? How did the police lose a broadsword? I mean it’s not as if there has been a sudden spate of immortals running round shouting “there can be only one” in a Frenchly Scottish accent whilst trying to lop the head off total strangers, has there? There can be only one broadsword…in the possession of the police…you don’t just lose that in an officer’s desk drawer…
MR JM: No. It went into the Property Store. It was logged into the Property Store. The computer says it is still in the Property Store. But…..
HHJ CJS: What, Mr Messenger? But what?
MR JM: The Officer has had a jolly good look for it but can’t find it.
HHJ CJS: Perhaps he should hang around the lake and see if any shimmering ladies emerge carrying Excalibur….Thankfully the last time the case was listed for trial it was discovered that there was, contrary to what the police had originally said, there was CCTV of the incident, if I recall correctly…
Miss Turner gets to her feet to assist.
MISS RT: Your Honour is quite correct. In advance of the last trial date the the Officer in the Case provided a statement in which he described how he had viewed the CCTV from the premises but that it showed nothing and was not capable of being downloaded. However on the day of the trial the owner of the premises provided a statement saying that the footage did show the incident and that it had been burnt on to a disc and handed to the same Officer.
HHJ CJS: At least that means we can see the invisible broadsword in action. Please be the bearer of good news this time Mr Messenger? Have we located the disc?
MR JM: Yes, Your Honour, there is a statement from the Officer. The disc was logged into the Property Store…
HHJ CJS: Why do I have a sense of dread, Mr Messenger? Was the disc lost by any chance?
MR JM: No, Your Honour.
HHJ CJS: Recorded over with Coronation Street so the night shift didn’t miss it?
MR JM: No, Your Honour. It has…..
HHJ CJS: No, no, Mr Messenger, I am keen to guess. Is it in a format incompatible with any known playback system?
MR JM: No, You Honour.
HHJ CJS: Has it been mistaken for a broadsword and stored down the back of a radiator?
MR JM: No, Your Honour.
HHJ CJS: Come on then, enlighten me.
MR JM: It has been destroyed.
The Judge indulges in some uncharacteristic eye rolling.
HHJ CJS: How, Mr Messenger? How was it destroyed? No. Why? Why was it destroyed? In fact, both. How and why.
MR JM: The Officer asked about it at the Property Store and was told it was there. When he went to collect it three days later it had, unfortunately, been destroyed the day before. Apparently where an item is not listed as an exhibit or as unused material in a live case they are automatically destroyed after six months. It is a rigorously effective system. It is all in the Officer’s statement.
HHJ CJS: Can I see it?
Mr Messenger takes the opportunity to do his own eye rolling. He speaks deliberately and slowly. Each word is separately formed and clearly enunciated.
MR JM: It. Has. Been. Destroyed….
HHJ CJS: NO! NOT THE FOOTAGE! THE STATEMENT. CAN I SEE THE STATEMENT?
MR JM: Yes, Your Honour, and a little bit of no.
HHJ CJS: Sorry?
MR JM: You may see the statement, but only in due course. At the moment you cannot.
HHJ CJS: Don’t tell me Mr Messenger. Lost? Destroyed in game of Rock/Paper/Sword at the Property Store? Written on incompatible parchment? Touring the County like the missing defendant?
MR JM: Nothing so simple I am afraid. The CPS printer is broken.
HHJ CJS: But it was only last week that it broke down and was repaired.
MR JM: Again, a little bit of yes and a little bit of no. It certainly broke down last week but has not been repaired in the interim. And now it is more broken than it was before.
HHJ CJS: Do they not have someone who can repair it?
MR JM: Not on the payroll, Your Honour. Rather than have a specialist waiting around to do the specific jobs that arise it is much cheaper to use outside contractors to come and do the work according to their experience and ability. You avoid pensions, sick pay and get to pick just the right person.
HHJ CJS: We are still taking about printer repair are we? What has been done?
MR JM: The Caseworker present in Court contacted the Area Business Manager who is the person to whom such faults should be reported…..
HHJ CJS: And?
MR JM: The Caseworker was told to sort it out himself.
HHJ CJS: What do they expect him to do? Find a repair person or get out his screwdriver and do it himself?
MR JM: Not entirely clear Your Honour. The Caseworker did point out to the Business Manager that he was looking after two courts today and that Your Honour had nine mentions dealing with trial readiness where the relevant correspondence and memoranda were only available on the Caseworker’s laptop and he had no means to print out that information and ended the telephone call by asking whether the Business Manager also wanted him to shove a broom up his …… well, the conversation ended without the problem being resolved.
The CPS Caseworker in court attracts Mr Messenger’s attention.
MR JM: If You Honour will forgive me for a moment, I am just receiving some instructions.
Mr Messenger leans forward and has a whispered conversation with the Caseworker.
MR JM: It transpires that the contract to repair the printer is held by GeeForceAnnie. So perhaps the van that brings the absent defendant can also bring the engineer…..
The telephone on the Court Clerk’s desk rings. She answers it and conducts her own whispered conversation with a cupped hand concealing her mouth. Once she finishes the conversation she stands, turns to face the Judge and relays the information to Her Honour. The Judge sighs.
HHJ CJS: I have just been told that the Court does not have a Judge available to hear this trial tomorrow. I am also told that there are only four jurors not currently engaged on trials available. So we have no Judge, no jury, an absent defendant, missing exhibits and missing statements. Miss Owens and Miss Turner it would appear that we are missing most of the essential ingredients of a trial and you would say that it is impossible to have a trial tomorrow?
BOTH: Yes, Your Honour.
HHJ CJS: On the defence application I will adjourn this trial…..
Both Miss Owens and Miss Turner look a little bemused. The Court Clerk eagerly ticks the box on the monitoring form indicating that the trial was adjourned upon a defence led application.
This is not the first imagined Courtroom Scene I have written. But this is not totally imagined. They are all problems that have arisen in cases in which I have been involved. And yes, that included a lost broadsword. Obviously they do not all happen in each case but they happen with such frequency that there is something very obviously wrong in the system. Things that will not be solved by endless Practice Directions. If nothing else, you can also play “spot the Monty Python plagiarised lines”…..