I have spent some time wandering around a Crown Court today. I have had plenty of time on my hands as the defendant in one of my cases was due at court for 10.30 and was delivered into the building at 3pm because those tasked with bringing him from London decided they could get all the way to Manchester in half an hour. I live seven miles away and I cannot do that, but a prison van can. Give or take five hours.
My wanderings saw me encounter the “Continous Improvement Hub Room”. I am sure I have mentioned this in blogs previously. And so I should. It is an important thing, the continuing improvement of the CJS. It deserves both a hub and a room.
I was wondering, as I wandered, if things had improved much since the last time I mentioned the “hub”. A glance at the list told me that four cases were listed to refix their trial date as they had been removed from the list due to “lack of court time”. A further examination of the list told me that EIGHT out of sixteen available courtrooms were not sitting on crime today. Seven of them were just shut up.
Undoubtedly this will due to a lack of money in the budget to pay for part time judges to fill the vacant courtrooms. The only current answer to this predicament is to get more people to plead guilty early in the absence of evidence. Access online to a case summary is to replace access to justice.
Paperless courts are definitely the future. Which is a good job. As the CPS currently have no means of copying or printing a single document in this particular building at the present moment in time.
So the list that I looked at was on a TV screen, produced by the first step in modernising the courts, the Xhibit system of publishing lists and recording representation. I could not look at it on the main, huge flatscreen display in the reception to the building as that is covered in paper with a sign that tells us there is a problem with the server that will be fixed some time soon. I think the sign has now been there for the best part of a year. So we all gawp at the covered screen like a certain vintage of Mayans must have looked at their decaying temples and astronomically precise towns whilst, admittedly somewhat improbably, they sang Whitney Houston’s “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”.
My promenade took me past the cell door, with its post-it-note addition on the bell that invited us to “press hard” because there is a faulty connection. I retired to the robing room to call Llisting. Unfortunately I could not as the internal telephone has been removed.
So I began once again to circle the building to speak to Listing. And in the same circular fashion I ended up back outside the Continuos Improvement Hub. And in the same spirit I find myself writing exactly the same blog that I have written in the past.
Will digital working cure all these ills? Not whilst the only papers loaded on to the system is a case summary which does not even mention the names of several people named in the indictment. Will “Better Case Management” cure all the ills? Not whilst defendants know they can put off the evil day to months down the line with a simple “not guilty” plea.
We should be working towards a better criminal justice system. Better case management contributes towards that. It is far from the answer though, even when all the cherries fall into place in the slot machine of a single list of PTPHs that all plead. This does not mean that everything will suddenly improve. Not when the fabric, the infrastructure is so woefully underfunded. Not when those tasked with preparing the case are so stretched. Not when we fall into thinking that an increase in pleas is a panacea for faulty wiring and a system of private contracts which means that on two consecutive court days I have a defendant produced after several wasted hours without explanation or even a murmur of complaint.
The system cannot rely on defendants who know whether they have done it or not pleading guilty. It has to be a system which can properly deal with all those defendants who do not. And that includes getting them to court on time, having a judge available to hear their case and a buzzer that gets you access to the cells.
Those that continue to ignore this should be ready to enter their guilty pleas as the system decays further, for they are the ones who are culpable.