Tag Archives: criminal justice

Tins Of Fish

It has always bewildered me that there is such an array of rules across the Prison Estate. I get that there has to be rules. I get that different establishments might have differing rules to suit the type of prison they are or to deal with any particular issues that they have locally.

And yet prison rules have still long baffled me. From the sign on a door that prohibited visitors bringing in, inter alia, “door stops and ladders” (how could a prison be defeated by wedging doors open and who could ever smuggle a ladder in?) to the prison that made me drop my trousers (a very long and not particularly edifying story) to the prison that turned over every page of my brief because “we had someone trying to smuggle a doughnut in…”, prison rules are, well, a law unto themselves. 

In Manchester we briefly had “the letter of introduction”. This was a letter which basically had to say “Hello, this is Jaime, he’s a barrister, and today he would like to visit one of your guests, Burglar Bill.”  A part of me always wanted them to have to finish with the phrase “and you shall let him pass without let or hindrance.” But they didn’t. 

My first introduction to letters of introduction was when I arrived at a prison and they told me I had to have one. This was news to me. I had not previously been introduced to the letter of introduction. The conversation went a little like this;

Officer: Where’s your letter of introduction?

Me: I haven’t got one. What is it?

Officer: It is a letter explaining who you are and why you’re here.

Me: Oh right. Never been asked for one of those before. Give me a moment and I’ll jot those details down on a piece of paper for you. 

Officer: No, that won’t do. It’s got to be from your boss. 

Me: I am self employed. I haven’t got a boss. I guess I am my own boss. So do you want it from me? Introducing myself?

Officer: Yes. 

Me: I’ll just jot it down then, like I just said…..

Officer: No! It’s got to be on headed notepaper. 

Me: Right, have you got a fax? Cos I’ll get some note paper faxed over and then I will write a letter on it formally introducing myself to you and sign it from myself to say it is deffo me. 

Officer: There’s no need to be arsey….

And so it went on. I didn’t get in the prison that day. But from that day forward I did carry a letter of introduction, like some emissary being sent on a diplomatic mission, and presented it at every prison I visited. Often I may as well have dropped my trousers (again) and shown my backside judging by the reception it got at most places. 

The letter of introduction now seems a thing of the past. Prisons feel no more or less safe. And in one of Machester’s prisons I can wear my watch as I visit a man on remand for murder and in the other prison I cannot wear my watch as I visit a man on remand for murder. I am sure this makes sense somewhere. Just not in the real world. 

My watch wearing is just an inconvenience. The real issue is which prison you can take your laptop or tablet into. Or, more importantly, what you have to do to be allowed to bring it in. One prison requires 48 hour written notice, another prison just needs you to mention it when you book in whilst another wants a letter from the computer’s mother and an oath taken in blood and bytes that the computer is who you say it is. 

Today I represented a man who was moved from a prison in London to a prison in Manchester and then back to London for his hearing today. I have mentioned in a blog previously that prison food is so bad that prisoners are concerned that protein is missing from their diet. I have plenty of clients that order protein shakes from the prison canteen to make up the deficit. These people are not bodybuilders, they just lack protein. My client today had overcome this by ordering 150 tins of mackerel and tuna as part of his “canteen”. 

A prisoner’s canteen is the extra stuff they can buy with their wages. Often it is tobacco or sweets. This prisoner wanted protein and decent food so he stockpiled tinned fish in his prison in London. And he was eating it three meals a day, had to buy when it was available and he amassed 150 tins of fish. He then got transferred to a prison in Manchester. A prison that did not allow prisoners to have tinned fish….

Now I appreciate that this sounds like I am making it up, but I promise you I am not. So at the Manchester prison his tinned fish hoard had to be stored. And today, when transferred from Manchester to court in London, his canned fish had to be bagged up in several bags and brought with him to London, just in case he ended up in a prison that let him have a sardine or two.

I know both prisons involved. They are very similar. Both privately run. Both house the same category of prisoner. They even look the same:

And yet in one prison you can buy tinned fish and in the other tinned fish is as prohibited as Class A Drugs and ladders….

The Criminal Justice System has become a disparate loose collection of different departments and entities, attempting to work together with little by way of overarching aims and guidance. I have no idea, from day to today, what I need to do to see a client, what I can take with me or whether they will be brought to court. And they have no idea whether Governor Antoinette is going to let them eat tinned fish or not. 

This disparate uncooperative co-op leads to delay and waste. And a man in the back of a prison van hurtling along the M6 with see-through bags full of contraband tinned fish. 

It has been a long day…..

Justice is Deaf

It was not long before some wag christened PTPHs “Pressure to Plead Hearings”. My experience of them would suggest the initials may in fact stand for “Problems That Persisted Historically” or “Prosecution Tried, Prosecution Haven’t”. 

Time and time again PTPHs are not in a position to go ahead. The reason? The same as it ever was – an overstretched Prosecution Service have not been able to upload the necessary information to the DCS system. 

Where is my evidence for this? The observations and experience of myself and my colleagues on a daily basis. Recently I have had the PTPH which was adjourned because the vital telephone evidence and the charts which explained the evidence had not been uploaded to the system. There was a valiant attempt to upload it the night before, which in itself encountered a problem as nobody had created an “Exhibits” section for it to be uploaded to. 

The valiant attempt failed. It appears to be a common experience that many documents seem to have been uploaded but in fact just appear as a URL. The PTPH was adjourned. The problem that has persisted historically still persisted – evidence that was prepared and ready was not served on the defence in good time. It is just the method of failed delivery that has changed. 

And “the defendant knows whether he did it or not” was not enough in the case of a multi-layered conspiracy count. 

As I have said before, there is just not sufficient time built into the timetable to provide an overstretched and under resourced CPS to manage the work involved in dealing with these cases. The rigidity built into the timetable is a recipe for wasted hearings. 

Let me give you an example, again from my own experience. The defence and the prosecution are fully engaged. The Prosecution write to the court asking for the PTPH to be delayed as the ABE transcript was not prepared yet and it was needed to prepare the indictment. The transcript would be with them seven days after the PTPH was due to take place, thereafter they needed a little time to consider this, draft the indictment and serve it on the defence. 

The defence, more engaged than Liz Taylor, also wrote to the court to inform them that they fully understood the Prosecution application. What is more, the defence indicated that the defendant would be pleading guilty but could only do so when he knew what he was charged with. The result? The hearing took place on the designated day and was adjourned. A PTPH has to take place within 29 to 35 days. And with a civil service-esque, metronomic rigidity this strict timetable was applied to guarantee inefficiency. 

Oh, and on the day the case was adjourned to for plea, the defendant was produced by videolink (to save time and be efficient) but with insufficient time for the hearing to embrace the sentencing of the defendant, so it was adjourned to a third hearing for him to be produced and, eventually, sentenced. 

This slavish adherence to an arbitrary timetable is RIDICULOUS. And yes, it is so ridiculous I am beginning to get a bit shouty about it. BECAUSE IT SEEMS NOBODY WITH THE POWER TO CHANGE THE SYSTEM LISTENS TO US!!

I was reading the preamble to a police case summary the other day which asks police officers to summarise all the “key evidence” and defines “key evidence” as being that which “establishes every element of the the offence and that the defendant committed the offence with the necessary criminal intent”. If the police are at the stage of writing a case summary they are in possession of evidence capable of establishing the ingredients of the offence. 

It is this key evidence which should be served, not a case summary. How many times have I seen a case summary describe how the defendant has admitted the offence in interview when he has done no such thing? Countless. 

Give me the evidence then give me time to advise. Then give me a listing regime which means I can spend the necessary time considering and advising with the safety of a reasonable prospect that I can do the PTPH and the trial. This will get you early engagement. This will get you early guilty pleas.

Is anyone listening?