Disdain, contempt, discourtesy – The Court and The Bar – an entirely one-way street

I certainly don’t have hours of spare time to devote to ranting for my spiritual well-being, and (hopefully) for your fleeting entertainment. However, I am coming firmly to the view that unless we scream these injustices from the mountaintop whenever they occur, then our silence will be taken as acquiescence by the Stalinistic MoJ.

Thus have you all been subjected to my rants-du-jour, as each day brought another farce imposed upon us by the system. We are expected to work harder on more for less, each and every day. Yet the system works against us at every turn. Take as an example, your preparation for a trial, where you are first on the indictment, Crown are represented by silk and junior and special casework CPS lawyer, 7,000 pages of served evidence, and 108,000 pages of telecoms SERVED evidence but not so as it appears on the PPE (so no guarantee you will get paid for it). Trial starts imminently, and although the Crown reassured months ago that nothing significant would be forthcoming after end of February, you are inundated on a weekly basis with new, significant material. For some reason, despite being first on the indictment in an OCG Class A conspiracy trial scheduled to last 8 weeks, trial judge steadfastly and repeatedly refuses to give you a junior.

Well you are desperately trying to prepare for the imminent trial, so you keep yourself as lightly committed as possible – but the system works against you. Last week (see rants passim) should have involved
i) no POCA Mention (all parties agreed to do it administratively but Court listed it anyway) or if a POCA Mention – 3 minutes. But that cost me 1/2 a day because of ludicrous listing;
ii) a short(ish) PTPH – no arraignment, not a full hearing – should have been 15 minutes. That again cost me 1/2 a day because of ludicrous listing;
iii) a free morning as an historic sentence was meant to be listed at our convenience (see “I don’t bloody think so Your Honour”) but was put in without consultation. Even so, a 09:30 listing, not much to say for various reasons – not too much of a problem? The 09:30 sentence took so long due to late arrival of van etc that I left court at 13:10!!
iv) a short plea hearing at 14:00 but no, due to inability of Prison Service or Serco or HMCTS to follow order of Judge, one of defendants not produced and therefore 1 hour faffing around trying to get him “brought from the wing” to the PVL booth. So that again was almost all of Friday afternoon.

All because of the ridiculous inefficiencies of the CJS, the ludicrous listings, the lack of funding and resources, an entire week where I should have had time to work and prepare – *pouf*, up in smoke.

So, gentle reader, you may be exceedingly surprised to learn that I was not in the best of moods, nor prone to the sunniest of dispositions come Friday afternoon. So imagine the “improvement” to my mood to learn that the trial judge for our 8 week trial in Manchester, is overrunning (even worse than anticipated) and will be on summing up or even speech and summing up on Monday. My clerks, and my solicitors, all repeatedly try to get a time marking for all counsel not to have to schlep to Manchester for an early start when we know for certain that nothing can or will get done. In an 8 week trial, where the judge is still engaged in his previous matter, we asked for at least a 2 pm listing….

Ha, don’t be silly. Judge was when told that 3 London Counsel would find it onerous (and bleeding expensive), in those circumstances, to get to Manchester, with all the impedimenta for a new trial, for an early start. His response? Well it is reported that he said “I don’t care”. So listed for 10:00 we are. Also listed at 10:00 is his ongoing trial! With as much respect as I can muster – RIDICULOUS and RUDE! It is symptomatic of the disdain, contempt and discourtesy with which we are treated. We are expected to engage, work harder for less and expend hour upon hour of goodwill for the system, for the Court, out of courtesy to the judge. Yet so often do we get absolutely sweet FA in return, other than the proverbial two fingers as here.

Well, as you may have gathered, and as I have told you, gentle reader, before, I have had enough. I wrote a letter of complaint to the Recorder of that fair city. I don’t expect that to have any effect but, if I don’t how can I complain if nothing changes? Every time I discuss these iniquities with colleagues, with clerks, they all say, “it won’t help” to write, complain or whatever. But if we all concede that then we condemn ourselves. Rather if each time we feel that we want to complain we do…. Something might, just might, change. Can’t hurt? And it helps me vent and keep my blood pressure below 160/110!

Herewith the redacted contents of my letter, for your delectation:

“Dear Judge

It is with regret that I find myself writing to you in complaint at the conduct of the proceedings relating to CM et al T20157xxx.

This matter has endured tortuous progress to this point, with the trial listed to start on Monday 6th June (having had an earlier fixture of 4th April broken due to inability of the defence to deal with the substantial volume of the case). There are still outstanding Applications to Dismiss for CM and others. These applications are due to be heard on Tuesday, the currently slated second day of trial. This is an unfortunate state of affairs in any event, but it seems that there are further issues with timing that have arisen. We understand that HHJ W., designated trial judge, is currently presiding over a trial, in which the evidence has only today been concluded. It appears that speeches may conclude today but if not then on Monday, with summing up necessarily following on Monday, maybe into Tuesday.

Both those instructing and my clerks, have liaised with the Court to ask that, in those circumstances, the case not be listed on Monday at all, or if it must remain on Monday, then not before 2pm. This is in no small measure because three trial counsel, at least, are from London. As far as C (and I believe D) M are concerned, the LAA have accepted that Messrs A. were justified in instructing counsel from “off circuit” due to the nature of the case and my particular experience and expertise with telephone evidence. When we reiterated our request for a later time marking, we were met with a report from the List Office that HHJ W. said that, in effect, he did not care. This leaves London Counsel having to leave London at 5 or 6 in the morning, and expend hundreds of pounds in travel expenses, to come eventually from the public purse, for, with the greatest of respect, no good reason. There is clearly no prospect of the Judge being able to hear anything substantive in our case on Monday before lunch, if indeed at all.

It is, as I say, with regret that I write to express my concern at the manner in which Counsel are treated by the Criminal Justice System in the current climate. It is, of course, accepted that there are numerous considerations in the smooth, or in any event least inefficient, running of the Criminal Justice System, and Counsel understand that we must play our part therein. However, we do not appear to receive any consideration in return. There is limited if any consideration of availability, convenience or such matters. This is sadly the last in a litany of such instances, and amounts to the straw that is breaking the camel’s back.

I appreciate there is perhaps little that can be done, but if Counsel does not raise these issues and concerns, then they are brushed under the carpet and the (mis)treatment, if I may so characterize it, will continue unabated.”

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About utterbarrister

Long-suffering, hard-working barrister in Criminal Practice at Chambers of John Coffey QC, 3 Temple Gardens, London
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One Response to Disdain, contempt, discourtesy – The Court and The Bar – an entirely one-way street

  1. Ciaran Rankin says:

    Wrong it will help. We all need to do it -repeatedly!!! And then again! Remember we are the cement that keeps this crumbling edifice from collapsing. Good work.

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