Tag Archives: judge

Sir Andrew Gilbart QC

When Roger Farley QC passed away I was moved to write a short tribute to him. It was the first time I had done this. And now I find myself writing about the passing of another member of the Northern Circuit, this time Sir Andrew Gilbart QC. 

There is a certain symmetry to this. Roger and Andrew shared chambers together for many years. Both of them have sons who are at the Bar in Manchester. Both of them had a significant circumference. Both of them were significant characters. Both of them were formidable advocates. 

Yet where they were similar they were also so different. They were the two sides of the same coin. They were perfect examples of how individuals with very different personalities, very different styles and very different skills can achieve significant success in the field of advocacy. 

Like Roger, I met Andrew when I was a pupil. My very first day on the Northern Circuit was spent with my pupil master in Liverpool Crown Court before Mr Recorder Gilbart QC. By this stage Andrew was an incredibly successful planning Silk who so clearly missed his days of doing criminal trials as a junior. I would see Andrew socially as he was in my then girlfriend’s chambers. He would always seek me out to hear about life at the junior criminal Bar, before he would then tell me tales about his career doing jury trials back in the day. He either did a lot of criminal cases or had a lot of stories about the few he did. 

As a young barrister I played cricket alongside Andrew. It has to be said Andrew was a cricketer of very limited ability. Years later I played for the Circuit alongside his son and my friend, Tom. It transpired that Andrew was the most talented cricketer in his family. By some distance. 

By the time Tom was playing cricket (after a fashion) for the Circuit, his father was already on the Bench, firstly as a Circuit Judge in Preston and thereafter as Recorder of Manchester. It is difficult to entirely encapsulate his judicial style in a few words. Can you have a precision broadside? He was certainly a Judge who let you know his view of things, always wrapped up in his own sense of humour. There were many ways in which things became much clearer when you discovered his American heritage….

It was when he was the Recorder of Manchester that I approached him at Mess to berate him for going too easy on advocates who were not doing the job properly (I may have taken drink). He listened to my complaint. He explained why a Judge had to remain outside of the arena in that way. He then told me “you shouldn’t hold it against people, just because you think you are better at this job than you think they are”. Which was a gentle but heavy admonishment to my intoxicated arrogance. 

He became ill at the point of him becoming a High Court Judge. As far as I can see taking such office should come with a health warning. That was, to my recollection, in 2014. Over the coming weeks, months and then years there were many times when news of his health seemed bleak. Each time he seemed to defy pessimism. He took up his appointment. He then returned to work when others would have retired. For those of you who knew him or had even just appeared before him on one occasion, it is entirely fitting that he was so determined not to let illness think it could have the last word without a fight. 

In 2013 the Northern Circuit organised a meeting for criminal practitioners to discuss the Government’s intention to attack Legal Aid. The meeting was during court sitting hours and was the first concerted action in that fight. Many of us did not attend our part heard trials and hearings that day. In advance of the day I wrote to all the local Judges. The letter was signed by scores of counsel. The letter explained what action we were taking and why we thought it necessary. HHJ Gilbart QC got wind of the fact I had written the letter and asked me to see him in his chambers. 

He made me a cup of tea. For about 45 minutes we debated the rights and wrongs of the Bar’s intention to protest in this way. He reminded me of my duties as an advocate and prevailed upon me to remind those I sought to encourage of their duties. He argued as to why the judiciary could make no allowances for our non-attendance, stating the constitutional importance of maintaining judicial independence. He warned me of the potential for consequences for those involved. We disagreed about much that afternoon. 

When it came time to leave he said “Of course I have been talking to you as the Recorder of Manchester, but as the father of a criminal barrister can I just say….I hope you stick it to them.” In my discussions with my fellow plotters and protesters I did not break Andrew’s confidence when he spoke to me as the father of a friend and colleague. I hope he would forgive me for doing so now. In a way that conversation encapsulated Andrew. His intellect and rigour in the debate, his sense of duty to his judicial role and his concern for the junior criminal Bar. And it also captured how I knew him – respected member of the profession, long standing professional acquaintance who would make me a cup of tea in his chambers once every so often to hear the gossip, slightly fearsome Judge and father of a mate. 

Once again we mourn a figure who lived for their vocation who has passed away before being able to enjoy their reflections on their working life in retirement. My condolences to Tom, Ruth and Paula, to all his family and friends. 

Call The Cops

My friend Delphine has never read my blog. I imagine many of my friends have never read my blog. They are sensible and interesting people so the reading of my blog should fall very low on their list of priorities. Some friends, however, have read my blog and during a recent lull in conversation Delphine heard her husband talking to me about my blog (not that I ask you to infer that Richard is neither sensible nor interesting but he has read my blog) and she asked what I wrote about.

“Music and the law,” I replied.

Momentarily Delphine was interested in the View from the North. She expressed the view that this was an interesting mélange (she did not say mélange but she is French so she should have). She went on to wonder how I managed to weave the two into the same blog. Did I write about the law as it relates to music or did I draw comparisons between music and the law? Or was it about the law featuring in music (as in 10cc’s “Well good morning Judge, how are you today/I’m in trouble, please put me away”)?

Interest soon faded when I explained I wrote about the law and music separately. And that the content was usually me moaning about some aspect of the criminal justice system or writing fanboy reviews of Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott. The View from the North, it would seem, is myopic and grumpy, mostly relayed to the soundtrack of broken northern hearts.

Writing a blog about the intersection of law and music would be nigh on impossible for me, I thought. I would not know where to start. The music and the law seldom cross paths unless you are an intellectual property lawyer. I am barely a lawyer, have never been associated with the word “intellectual” and only ever own property when playing Monopoly.

But…..wait a minute….. I have got my one reliable dinner party anecdote. And it is about music and the law. It may be the greatest day of my career. It is a memory that is stored in a box in my mind which has written on it, in big gold letters, “The Day I Represented Shaun Ryder”.

Now, for those of you who are either High Court Judges or oblivious to the splendour of Madchester, Shaun Ryder was the lead singer of the Happy Mondays and Black Grape. He produced such classics as Hallelujah, Step On and In The Name of the Father. If you have not heard of him then check out his bio here and listen to some of his music. Then come back and I will tell you of The Day I Represented Shaun Ryder.

Welcome back to all those who needed Wikipedia and Spotify. I shall continue.

It was 13th July 2000. This was 24 days after Kylie Minogue had released her single “Spinning Around” and was almost exactly 6 years to the day from when I had made my first appearance before a Crown Court (see how effortlessly I can in fact weave music and the law together). I was at Crown Square, the Crown Court in Manchester. And I was being both Big and Important.

I was Big and Important because I was appearing for the first time in a murder. Ok, it was only listed to mention. But I was doing it. And, to quote an obscure fictional legal character, I was doing it alone and without a Leader (the mention, that is, not the whole case).

So when a solicitor whom I knew approached me and asked if I could do him a favour I patiently explained that I was both Big and Important. Doing a bench warrant as a favour for a solicitor was now beneath me.

“Oh, it is just that I need someone to help Shaun Ryder out….”

“Shaun Ryder?” I repeated. “The Shaun Ryder?”

It turned out it was the Shaun Ryder. It turned out that he had been due to appear at court the day before as a witness but had not shown. When he had turned up the Judge demanded he had representation. The Judge thought his failure to attend fell into that category of legal application known as “Something About Which Something Has To Be Done”.

Even Big and Important barristers can find time for a celebrity client. So moments later I found myself in a conference room with Shaun Ryder. Shaun “Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches” Ryder. And for those of you from a more modern generation, that is Shaun “Runner-Up in I’m a Celebrity 2010” Ryder.

So I had a conference with one of my musical heroes. The prosecution had produced a letter detailing the efforts they had made in order to inform him of the date of the trial. So I tried to establish where he was living.

“Ahhmkippinatrowettasmahn” was his reply.

I like to think I speak fluent Manc. I had been to the Hacienda. I had lived most of my life seven miles from the City Centre. I had a long sleeve t-shirt with James emblazoned on the front. I had owned a pair of Joe Bloggs jeans. But I could not understand a word he said.

Thankfully his concert promoter was there.

“He has been kipping at Rowetta’s house” he translated. This I understood. Rowetta was the other vocalist from the Happy Mondays.

And the conference continued with simultaneous translation facilities being provided.

So I was able to go into court and explain to HHJ Ensor that my client had not been in attendance the day before because of the most rock and roll of reasons – he had been on a monumental bender. Yep. That was my cunning defence. My client was too pissed to come to court.

Fortunately I was also able to point out that the Judge had no power to do anything at all. Even if my client was famous.

And so we exited court and Shaun Ryder put his hand in his pocket and said to me “let me sort you out with some cash” (at least that’s what the promoter told me he said).

I declined all payment. I had done this as a favour. Not to the solicitor, but to myself. I, a Manchester boy, had just secured myself a footnote in the story of Madchester.

There was just one thing he could do for me though. An autograph. So we scrabbled for a piece of paper and the first thing that came to hand was the letter the police had written about informing him of the court date. He gave it back to me, autograph complete. But not just an autograph. He had written “Call The Cops, Shaun William Ryder”.

If you do know the work of Shaun Ryder, you will know how brilliant that is. If you don’t then “call the cops” is a famous snippet of lyrics from Step On.

And that letter is framed on my study wall

That afternoon I heard my submissions being quoted on Radio 1’s Newsbeat. And the concert promoter very kindly sent me four tickets to the Oasis gig that weekend where the Happy Mondays were the support act.

Later in the evening my university mate Richard sent me a text (and yes, it is the Richard who is now married to Delphine, see above). Richard was in a bar in Belgium. He had just seen the Kylie Minogue video for Spinning Around for the first time. For men of my generation that is our JFK moment. You always remember where you were the first time you saw the hotpants/Kylie thing. So there was Richard, seeing the video for the first time 24 days after the single had been released. And I was able to text back “you’re never going to guess who I represented today….”

So that is the one time law, Shaun Ryder and Kylie Minogue intersected. And because Delphine thought that would be a good basis for a blog I have blown my one good dinner party anecdote.

Well, I do have the story about the MMA promoter and the goldfish. But that needs accents and dramatic pauses. So you will have to invite me round for that one.

Open All Hours

Fulford LJ is the Judge in Charge of Reform. This is a noble aim. The Justice System should reform. We should look at ways whereby modern technology is utilised effectively (effectively being the operative word). We should strive to make sure that the Justice System remains fit for its stated purpose (this is not the same as being popular). 

I certainly have the greatest of respect for Fulford LJ, the office he holds and even his special responsibility of reform. But this is not what we need right now. What we need is a Judge in Charge of Getting the Basics Right. 

This is not a sexy job title. This is not something which looks good on the CV when going for one of the big jobs. But it is needed in the Criminal Courts. And it is needed before we even begin with the ambition of reform. There is no point attempting to augment something which does not work in the first place. Even Chris Hoy would struggle on a titanium framed penny farthing. 

Let’s examine the Flexible Operating Hours pilot which Lord Justice Fulford has recently defended and the reality of every day life in the criminal courts. The FOH pilot has the stated aim of utilising the court estate with greater efficiency and operating at times which is more convenient for court users. 

Let us look at the reality. The reality is that a trial scheduled to start at 10am today did not get underway until 2.15 because the defendant was not produced from custody. This was because the van set off from the prison housing the defendant at just before 10am, a prison which is over two hours away from Court. This was not because something went wrong. This was not because it was only realised that the defendant was required at the last moment. This is because this is the way it is. This is the accepted reality of life in the courts. Whilst I cannot say it happens every single day (although I would not be surprised to find out it does) it happens with such frequency that every court user will recognise the scenario I have described. 

A courtroom sat empty whilst we awaited the van. A witness who could reasonably have expected their evidence to be concluded today was sent away until tomorrow. 

Now I can predict with certainty that barely a single prisoner will be delivered to court in time for an 830 am start or even a 930 start. Those prisoners who are in the afternoon shift will not get a lie in (you can bet that only one van will drop off so the defendant required for an afternoon hearing will come with the morning lot) and experience shows they will be lucky to get a Pot Noodle on their return in the evening. Imagine that in a trial. Day after day of early starts, hours in cramped court cells, a curled sandwich at lunchtime and no hot meal all week. If this is reform then it is only in the sense of the word used when Pink Floyd reform. We are not putting the band back together, we are putting the workhouses and the squalor of Victorian gaols back together. 

For late defendants you can substitute inadequate interpretation provision, poorly prepared lawyers, courtrooms sitting empty because there is no budget for judges (yes, really) and videolink technology that has all the reliability of an Austin Allegro built on a Friday afternoon. The Criminal Justice System is beset with difficulties. Solving these have to be the priority, not opening all hours. 

We are told that, should the Pilots be a success, the greater efficiencies will allow money to be spent on the rest of the system. We all know that “greater efficiencies” means closing court buildings. And that has huge consequences which are only amplified by FOH. 

Again, an example based on the reality of attending court. It is proposed that Newcastle will operate from 930am. This will require lawyers being there before then to conduct their discussion with their opponents and confer with their clients (if they are lucky enough to be on bail and therefore have a prospect of being there themselves on time). The earliest you can get to Newcastle from Birmingham by train is 9.27. From Liverpool it is 9.14. From Manchester you can get there with an hour before court. If you leave on the train at 5.47. And from London the earliest you can get there is 9.40am (or you could drive and leave the house at about 3.30 am).

This means that those lawyers with a hearing in the 930 court will either have to appear by videolink (not always practical, desirable or even achievable) or will have to stay the night before. The stay the night before will be at the advocate’s own expense (it is relatively uncommon to receive travel expenses and when you do they only cover the trial, not ancillary hearings like the sentence) and that expense may well come out of a fee which is £45. Or even £0. A more efficient use of the Court Estate may require the judicial car park at Newcastle to accommodate a caravan or two. Or maybe a yurt. Perhaps the dormant canteens can be reformed into dormitories. 

So this demonstrates a fundamental problem with the FOH that you don’t need a pilot, or even a train driver, to spot. They instantly throw a time and financial burden on the lawyers. And yet this only highlights a growing problem with the accessibility of courts. As the local court closes it will be the witness, the plaintiff, the victim and the innocent that cannot get to their nearest court by public transport. So the greater efficiencies strived for within the pilot turns the Justice System into a more remote silo of justice physically removed from the community it works to keep safe. 

These FOH pilots cost a small fortune. The CPS have to pay their staff more. Consultants will make a small fortune evaluating the results. Civil servants will devote time and energy writing blogs and implementation strategies. Right Honourable Lord Justices (or Lords Justice) will have to devote judicial time to writing letters to the ill-informed. 

Yet it is the ill-informed that could tell them all they need to know. It is the ill-informed who know the defendants will not be produced in time. It is the ill-informed who can look at a train timetable and realise they cannot get to court on time. It is the ill-informed who know that they will have cases that appear in both shifts in any given day and will be at court from 8 til 7. It is the ill-informed that know that those with childcare responsibilities will have their careers turned upside down by the unpredictability of our work being stretched over two or three shifts from dawn til dusk. 

So I go back to where I started. We do not need a Judge in Charge of Reform. We need a Judge in Charge of Getting the Basics Right. We need defendants produced on time. We need facilities that work and allow us to do the jobs required of us. And where do I suggest getting the money to fund these basics? Well you could start by scrapping the FOH pilot. After all, I don’t need six months evaluating the burns to my lap to work out that a chocolate teapot is not the way to make my morning cuppa. 

Sitting in the Dock of Delay

Some of those who walk through the doors of a court building as defendants are criminals. I would suggest the vast majority of them have committed some offence at some time. Quite a few have contributed in some way to them being there that day, whether it is by committing the offence they are charged with or by committing some offence in the course of their conduct or their conduct otherwise contributing to them being there. 

A significant proportion of them, however, are innocent. A greater proportion of them are of previous good character and are there due to the one error they have made in their lives. It is an error that they will be punished for but not something that wiped the good they have done off the slate. They are young men, with anxious parents, who will never again in their lives raise a fist in anger. They are people who gave into temptation in a coincidence of circumstance that will never again collide to propel them through the doors of the Crown Court. They are drivers who face a judgement because their error, their error that has been committed by dozens of un-prosecuted drivers, has led to a serious consequence and police involvement.  And they are people who are guilty of no misdemeanour at all. 

Once convicted, these defendants will be punished. Once convicted they may be subject to piercing criticism of their conduct. And rightly so. But until such time as they are convicted, they remain just one component of the criminal justice system. 

Now I throw my hands in the air in frustration when I hear about “customer surveys” or “consumer feedback” when talking about court users. People do not choose to partake in the criminal justice system. So they are not consumers or customers yet they are fellow human beings. And as such they all deserve to be treated with respect and consideration. Witnesses, complainants, victims and defendants all deserve being treated as we would wish to be treated by others. 

Over time I have witnessed the criminal justice system trying to do much better when it comes to dealing with people. When I began my career I would go so far as to say that the system, and those professionals that operated within it, treated  every other actor with considerable disdain. Where we thought we acted with a degree of sang froid we were in fact being aloof and arrogant. We mistook disdain for detachment. Gradually things have improved with consideration being given to witnesses and their understandable needs. I am not suggesting that it is perfect but the system has worked to improve.

That improvement, however, has not been extended to defendants. So you have the situation where young men of previous good character stand in the dock in their suits on the day when their trial was due to be heard but has been cancelled at the last minute, and refixed nine months hence, to hear the Judge observe that at least no witnesses have attended because the case was pulled the night before. Some Judges will apologise to the defendants. Most do not. 

The fact is that the defendants’ attendance in those circumstances is otiose. They have probably already taken the week off work. They will already have waited a year with this case hanging over their heads. And the reason for the further delay to their case is not because they have exercised their right to deny the offence they are charged with. The further delay is because the courts are under resourced. 

For all the talk of Brandon Lewis announcing that the 28 day bail regime will bring about less delay and uncertainty for the arrested it is just talk. All it means is less people released on bail and more people just released pending further investigation. Like most Government initiatives it is all talk. Talk usually focused on making it sound like it is good for the victims of crime but it is just that. Talk. Talk that politicians hope appeals to voters but talk that is not backed by action to tackle the real problems that beset the justice system. 

Whilst the politicians fail to put our taxpayers money where their duplicitous mouth is, the system creaks on with inevitable delay. And as those delays impact upon all involved the very least we can do is treat everyone with consideration and dignity. Even those in the dock. 

Throw Me A Bone

On Monday I was meant to start a trial. Unfortunately the trial was listed before a Judge who was part heard until Tuesday. Courtrooms and trials are a little like runways and airplanes that are coming in to land – two into one just doesn’t go. 

So we were given a new Judge to start before on Tuesday morning. As it turned out it was Tuesday afternoon as our new Judge also had other cases to deal with. 

This delay is not what this blog is about. But it is important background information. This blog is about Thursday. 

On Thursday I had a PTPH which was very likely to be a guilty plea. That PTPH was listed in the same court building as my trial. It was likely that once the plea had been entered there could be a stand down report and the defendant could have been sentenced there and then. 

The problem was that my jury was not going to be going out until the Friday. The trial took almost exactly three days from opening speech to the jury retiring. Had I even got underway at some point on the Monday I would have been free for my PTPH. 

My clerks and I thought it was a good idea to ask for the PTPH to be moved. Our first port of call was asking for consent from the CPS locally. In this instance it is only polite to ask because we all know it is also pointless. They never agree. 

So we sent a written request to the Court. We thought it polite to ask them. Yet it is also almost as pointless. This Court does not agree either. Even when the reason I cannot do the PTPH is because their listing has caused me the difficulty. All I was asking for was that it be moved from Thursday to the following Monday or Tuesday. 

The Court were prepared to list it at 945. And frankly I took a huge risk and did the case because I was so hacked off that the Court had refused to move it that I was quite prepared to stand my ground when it all went wrong, which, of course, it did. Client arrived at 10 and the case was called on at 1020 with the only thing that saved me from being in a trial and a sentence at the same time was the fact that the lower court had totally cocked up an associated committal for sentence. 

So what are the consequences of intransigent listing policy from both a CPS branch and a Court? Firstly they are financial. The trial that did not get into Court on Monday had already been adjourned through lack of court time previously. So, as I was prosecuting, that equates to one previous mention fee, then a mention fee on the Monday the case wasn’t reached and then a free day on the Wednesday as that was the second day of the trial. 

When the case had previously been adjourned it had been refixed in a slot in my diary. The Court did not like that date so it was relisted and forced in. The nature of the case was such that I had to stick with it so I returned another trial that was listed that Monday. And, as inevitably happens, as I sat around the robing room whilst I had no prospect of getting on, my other trial cracked. 

And, as is also nearly always the way, because my jury only went out on the Friday I had to miss another PTPH in another court centre on the Friday. That was a tad embarrassing because that Court had been accommodating and reasonable and had previously moved my PTPH to a date when I thought I could do it. So someone else had to go along (an appearance which comes out of the fixed fee) and I had to pen an apology. I also had to draft the documents required for the PTPH I was absent from and fill in the form. 

The second consequence is that I ended up almost letting down one solicitor and actually letting down another. I think some Judges believe that work still grows on trees. It does not. Not these days, not in this market. Not being there for things like PTPHs is the sort of thing that can stop solicitors using you, no matter how good they think you are at the job. Gone are the days when I went to court with a fist full of PCMHs. 

The final consequence is that it erodes a little bit more of the goodwill. I know that the CPS will not consent to moving cases of this nature. It is making us all a little less inclined to help when they need it. I know that the Court will not move such cases, even when my non-availability is also their fault. And that makes me more prone to take risks with listings, more likely to keep courts waiting and less likely to add oil to the wheels of the system. 

I have known that the Bar are at the bottom of the pile for a very long time. Our availability should take second place to the efficient running of the judicial system and things like the needs of vulnerable witnesses.  But the efficient running of the system would also, from time to time, benefit from throwing us a bone or two. 

Better case management might benefit from a tiny little bit of sensible management of the players involved. 

Going Digital

I embrace technology like an American President with no heed to etiquette embraces Her Majesty. On occasion I embrace the wrong technology, like mini discs instead of MP3s or hard drive DVD players instead of iPads. When I have caught up I like to use technology, so Archbold is no longer carted around in my bag with its tissue paper pages but nestles happily in my iPad, alongside my sentencing guidelines and espisodes of Dr Who. I have a blog, Facebook, Twitter and even Tumblr. I draw the line at Snapchat, which may be a product of my suspicion of people who would want to send pictures that disappear. 

So I welcome the advent of DCS and PCU wifi. This is a huge step forward for the criminal justice system and is a laudable achievement. I reserve judgement on PTPHs until I experience them in all their glory. Yet, in theory, I raise a hypothetical three cheers for the use of technology in our courts. 

And there is the rub. I welcome it in theory. There will be teething problems. It is the responsibility of all to iron out these problems. I worry about being able to take the necessary equipment on prison visits into establishments which currently will not allow me to wear a watch. I wonder how people that do not embrace technology are going to cope.

My greatest fear is the existing infrastructure. The system relies upon technology and the Internet. What if this goes wrong? What are the chances of it going wrong? How frequently could it go wrong sufficiently to cause problems?

When the system is rolled out in all its glory, when it is fully implemented, paper will not exist. Statements, photographs and documents will whizz between Judge, jury and counsel with the same magic that Mike TeeVee whizzed through Wonka’s chocolate factory. 

Is the internet being “down” going to be the new burst pipes? I experience problems with my internet at home. From time to time it disappears and Mrs VFTN and I have to rely upon Victorian ways of passing the evening, like conversation. Is there a Plan B if the internet vanishes due to the provider or equipment failure? (In Court, not in the VFTN household).

Is this a problem worth worrying about? Experience tells us that we do have reason to worry. Past performance is no guarantee of future prosepcts for investments but they are a pretty good indicator for Government IT projects. And it is not a happy history. The familiar tale is an interesting combination of being over-budget and under-resourced at exactly the same time. 

I am currently going about my business in one of my regular haunts. Every morning I log my details on to the Xhibit system against the cases I am doing. This allows the court to know who is who and where they are. It expedites payment. It allows the public to look at screens adorning the building to find out what cases are in the courtroom and where the court are up to in the list.

For the last week or so the screen outside the courtroom has had a piece of paper sellotaped to the front of it. The paper displays which cases are in the list because the technology has gone wrong and we are having to make do. We have gone from paperless to papering over the faults.

Fans or otherwise of Alanis Morrisette will appreciate the irony of this irony. Digital working in the courts could be a wonderful thing. If it goes wrong there could be a lot of empty screens, blank faces and wasted days. 

A Tale of Everyday Life

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….


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…..


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”…..