ON-THE-OUTSIDE-LOOKING-IN - The Justice of the Peace


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written by The Justice of the Peace on the 20th March 2018 at 12:53

Some of us recognise inefficiencies without their having had any personal effects on our personal lives; some don`t.  Some of us are responsible for these inefficiencies; some are not.  Some of us endeavour to put right these inefficiencies; some do not.  My biggest grouch is reserved for those who can rectify inefficiencies but choose not to do so either through indolence, disinterest or fear.  As can be noted from all the political clap-trap of late all major parties are placing the reduction or removal of inefficiencies within government in its broadest sense as a prime requirement to reduce the deficit caused by the government`s failure itself to control ineffectiveness in various financial supervisory bodies.

I could comment on the Ministry of Justice in general in this regard but not today. But I can comment on the courts` system in particular. Whether or not  these comments are typical of a general malaise I can only refer to my previous blogs on the Crown Prosecution Service where many ex colleagues and I were well aware of its being unfit for purpose  long before the official inspections proved us correct.

A few years ago a friend approached me for advice.  He had been summonsed as a witness to a neighbouring court.  I inspected the summons which stated clearly the time and date at which he was to be available at the named court.  Indeed the court was named but there was no mention of its address or telephone number.  I wrote a letter and made a couple of calls receiving an unapologetic reply that the matter would be looked into.  As is often the case my friend duly turned up to do his duty but the case was adjourned because on the morning the interpreter who had been booked did not turn up.  When, a few weeks later, my friend received another summons the court`s address and telephone number were on the summons.  I took four  points from that. How long had the previous design been in use, what individual or more likely  what committee had approved the design,  how much had it cost to re-print  and how many witnesses failed to appear as a result?

Within the Magistrates` Courts system there are many varied activities; some courts are very busy and some less so.  In a major city court building where perhaps six or more courts are sitting simultaneously  in the remand courtroom there are invariably listed more cases than can be dealt with and the excess cases will be decanted to another courtroom where for one reason or another there is spare capacity. In a small court in a suburb or in the shires where the building has not yet been closed under the Ministry`s drive for "efficiency" ie reduce costs if eg a trial does not proceed JPs can be left sitting around with nothing to do; an activity which the Ministry is not too concerned about because JPs are unpaid volunteers. But when that inactivity is due solely to CPS inefficiencies which should and could have been sorted by a ten year old child one really does despair.

For any number of reasons many Magistrates` Courts are listing trials three or four months ahead.  Justice delayed is justice stayed.  Many magistrates enjoy the experience of sitting away from their home courts perhaps to examine their own competence with new colleagues and legal advisers whose procedures might provide a learning experience and/or the need for some additional thought to what as in many skilled professional jobs can become somewhat routine activities.  Such was the case with a former colleague. A neighbouring court in the county required additional chairmen JPs to help clear a backlog of trials. She volunteered to attend. Although all parties, CPS prosecutor, defence counsel, defendant, interpreter, police witnesses for the prosecution and a witness for the defence were all in attendance the prosecutor`s case file had not reached the court  and had gone missing.  The story of this missing file is an example of such gross incompetence and lack  of interest in procedures by those concerned that I tell it here as she relayed it to me.

The file was held at local CPS office to be sent to "her" court, one of three courts in that CPS area. The Government Mail Department is responsible for the delivery of all such files. Complaints by the bench to a very senior person at the CPS elicited the information that it had been left at the CPS in a sealed envelope addressed to the court. No information on whether the procedure of collection required a signature or time stamp on some log. The courier service confirmed that all files that morning had been collected and delivered. My ex colleague enquired about procedures usually employed at the court for acceptance of such files.  She was told by a court official that the files are left in an office by the courier; they are not checked on receipt or signed for.  Her conclusion was that the missing file must have been delivered in error to another court building in the county and if all other courts operate such non procedure procedures it probably would have remained there until some curious individual looked inside.

The senior CPS person promised to provide a full written explanation in due course.  The upshot of this tale of woe is that the three magistrates who had apparently all come from their home courts for the morning sitting had nothing else to do as in that particular local small  court building there was only one other courtroom  functioning and the list was not unduly overburdensome for its bench.

Any  number of people involved could and should have been alerted to the inherent inefficiency that was in operation.  Meantime a complete CPS case file containing highly sensitive information went missing. If this weren`t a Justice of the Peace blog I`d say this waste of public time and money was criminal.........but since it is such a blog I`ll content myself as describing those involved whoever they might have been as highly culpable. 

Now I am a passive observer of and no longer an active participant in court affairs.  From observations and accounts heard and read from various sources it would appear that today  HMCTS and CPS in combination are presiding over a much more inefficient courts system than I ever experienced.  I`m very pleased to be where I am; sitting on the outside looking in.

 Originally posted at https://thejusticeofthepeaceblog.blogspot.com/2018/03/on-outside-...

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