Sunday, June 08, 2008

MRSA Sweeping Through Courtrooms

Albanian** postal service: "serious concerns"

BOM readers will be well acquainted with the criminal inefficiency of the Crown Prosecution Service - hopeless case files, unanswered phones, AWOL lawyers, postponed trials, guilty walking free, etc etc (see previous blogs eg here).

Now, m'learned friend draws our attention to a piece written by one of Britain's top criminal barristers. Writing in Counsel (FHM for barristers), Nigel Rumfitt QC reveals inefficiency isn't confined to the CPS. He says the entire criminal court system is succombing to a life-threatening strain of MRSA. He calls it "unpunctuality".

Sadly, Counsel is not online, but here are some brief extracts (names have been changed "to protect the guilty", although Mr Rumfitt swears on oath it's otherwise 100% true):

"It is 10.43am in Court 1 at the Citytown Crown Court. The court clerk and the usher are deep in conversation about last night’s football. Prosecuting counsel is not in court. She is trying to photocopy the plans and interviews she needs for her case. “Shortage of resources” means that she is not attended by a CPS clerk. It also means that the photocopier is broken—again.

Defence counsel is not in court either. He is queuing to get into the cells to see his client. There are four available interview rooms for a seven court centre, all of which are full. “Staff shortages” mean that four perfectly serviceable interview rooms are always left empty apart from the one used unofficially by staff as a common room. All this is academic today. Group 13, or whatever name it is currently using to hide its shame, has forgotten to bring the client from prison.

Meanwhile His Honour Judge Faffington is in his chambers. He and the court manager are discussing the forthcoming open day for local schoolchildren. Faffington is the resident judge at Citytown despite being gifted with administrative skills which would raise eyebrows in the Albanian postal service*. At 10.55am he finally catches sight of the clock, puts on his grubby robe and crumpled bands and eases himself on to the bench in Court 1."

And so it proceeds. Everything happens late, or not at all. The judge takes time out for a dental appointment, and to beat the rush hour traffic home. The prosecution withholds vital evidence from the defence, causing a further delay when it inadvertantly slips out. A civil servant randomly transferred from DEFRA screws up the court timetable. And the finale:

"The prosecution offers no evidence, thus bringing to end another small chapter in the sad decline of our criminal justice system. An innocent man has spent six months in custody, public money has been wasted on an epic scale and the jury leave Citytown Crown Court with a feeling of disgust that they will pass on to their friends and families."

And this, mark you, is from a senior participant in the process itself.

So, what do we want? Accountability... elected sheriffs... elected DAs... elected judges.

When do we want 'em? Now.

Because my friends, it's taxpayers like you and me who are funding this entire shambles.

PS Mrs T once sat on a jury at the Old Bailey. One of the trials involved a group of black men who apparently shared a one room flat in Sarf London. A Boots the Chemist warehouse quantity of drugs had been discovered in the flat, along with a suitcase containing many tens of thousands of pounds stashed under the bed. The men reckoned they knew nothing about either of these things, and Mrs T was hugely looking forward to hearing their innocent explanation. But alas - after two days, the hearing was halted because someone had inadvertantly passed the jury a thick file listing the defendants' mind-bogglingly extensive previous. Cost? A lot.

PPS The reason this article was drawn to our attention is that many hundreds of years ago m'learned friend, Mr Rumfitt, and Tyler all shared a rooming house amidst the dreaming spires. And even then, Mr R looked certain to become a top barrister. It was the horsehair wig he wore to do the washing up - always a dead giveaway.

*Footnote: BOM wishes to disassociate itself from Mr Rumfitt's unfortunate and quite unwarranted slur on the Albanian postal service. It's well known that since the 1998 visit to the service by the General Director of the Union of World Postal Service, and the award of the Postal Medal of Merit to the President, everything has been tickety. Can you name one other postal service that has produced a Marxist-Lennonist stamp**? Thought not.

**Footnote footnote update: Anon has commented "those stamps are from Abkhazia, the unrecognised breakaway state of Georgia, not Albania." You know, I always suspected the Major's knowledge of stamp collecting isn't as watertight as he claims. That album of "Penny Blacks" he got on eBay for sixty quid is so obviously a load of photocopies, but he just can't admit he's been conned. Anyway, I don't care - I like the stamp.

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