The Wheels on the Bus

The View from the North is back after an away day down sarf in that there London Town for an appearance in the Court of Appeal. As is invariably the case, I lost. As is also invariably the case, the Court were very patient of my tongue tied attempts to persuade them of my cause. One day I may just give in and beg them a little. 

There was quite a media scrum outside and inside the RCJ. This was not connected with my appearance but that of Ched Evans and his second appeal against conviction. The massed ranks of photographers, cameras and assorted journos served well to bring home how the Criminal Justice System remains embedded in the heart of our nation. Every day matters of great public interest take place within our courtrooms. Every day matters of great human interest take place within our courtrooms, both big and small (the matters of human interest that is, not the courtrooms).

As I was sitting amongst my bewigged learned friends as we trembled before the terrifyingly perceptive court, I was struck by the real efforts being made to drag the CJS towards modernity. All Appellants appeared by videolink. iPads were as common amongst the Bench and Bar as blue notebooks were but a short time ago. Counsel were as likely to have their papers contained within a PDF than a piece of fabric ribbon. 

I say all Appellants appeared by videolink. One did not. He was expected to. It was arranged. The equipment was there and, on this occasion, the equipment was working. Well….. when I say the equipment was there, I mean the equipment was there in the room he was meant to be in. Unfortunately that required him to be moved from one prison that did not have videolink to one that did. But he hadn’t been transferred. This was the first time I had witnessed a case of someone missing a videolink because they had not been put on the bus. 

Now it occurred to me that this represented two truths about modernity within the Criminal Justice System. The first is universal availability. Having the facility to be modern amongst the Gothic grandeur of the RCJ is all well and good, but it does slightly defeat the object if prisoners are having to be transferred so they can be on TV. I appreciate there is still an overall cost saving but if we are going to do it, we should do it well. 

So it is a bit of a nonsense that there are still courts without PCU wifi. It is a plain daft that such a court is operating digital working. You can’t run a train when you haven’t laid the tracks. 

The second thing that this represented was having the technology is all well and good, but it counts for nothing unless we have got the system right. I am yet to be involved in a DCS PTPH which has worked without hitch. Most of the problems have been as a result of the system, rather than the technology. 

Currently the CPS have a maximum of 21 days to upload the papers and that can give the defence seven days to react. I have yet to witness a case whereby the papers have been on the DCS at the time the case was sent to the Crown Court. Now you can peddle as much of “the client knows whether he did it” and “the solicitor was with him in interview so she knows he did it too” as you like but the reality of stretched defence resources and increasing demands on those resources are not conducive to working under such a ridiculous schedule. At the present moment in time there is insufficient time to organise a conference. The powers that be must appreciate that defendants and advocates are not always available to get together at the drop of a hat. 

The “Prosecution” in the guise of CPS and police, will usually have had months to prepare the case. Even they are struggling to adhere to this timetable. I would advocate giving them 28 days from the point of sending to provide sufficient evidence. 

What do I mean by sufficient evidence? I suggest that the rules be changed so that they have to serve sufficient evidence (nothing else) to prove each ingredient of the offences that appear on the indictment. So if it is a drugs case they have to serve the short form scientific report that confirms the class of the drug (and yes, in a recent case that was not there). 

Then the defence should have 28 days after the service of the papers to complete the online PTPH form. Then the PTPH should take place some time after that. Or make it 21 days and 21 days. But give equal amounts of time and provide the system with a sanction if the deadline is missed. 

Giving the defence proper time to prepare and material to consider will only lead to more cases resolving. The question “did you do it?” to a client who I cannot even advise  about whether the prosecution can show what the drug is, is unlikely to crack many cases. Considered advice would do. 

The CBA want your examples of things going wrong. I urge you to send them to Aaron Dolan. Be constructive. Demonstrate to the powers that be that “early guilty pleas” mean pleas before the case gets into the system for trial rather than guilty pleas obtained as quickly as is inhumanely possible. Show them that early defence engagement where responsible professionals can give proper advice will lead to more guilty pleas than any amount of “he knows whether he did it” and increasingly parsimonious credit provisions.

This should not be about saving money on paper or shaving pounds off fees or saving time uploading five statements instead of seven. This should be about convicting those that should be convicted and minimising the inconvenience and stress to those who are innocently caught up in the system. 

Better Case Management needs to be made better. Let us not miss the bus. 

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