‘It’s those who think it will never happen to them who are most at risk ‘. The role that Grassroots Sport can play in combatting Child Sexual Exploitation.

Recently I attended a training session at Rotherham United FC, this time it wasn’t anything to do with football training, but instead helping grassroots coaches and team managers to identify potential child exploitation, and to help young people recognise that they may be a target of a groomer. The dangers of child sexual exploitation are everywhere, any youth, any age, can be groomed. Some may be groomed quicker than others, a few hours in some cases, and over a year in other cases. The whole point of grooming is identifying a person’s weakness and exploiting it. In reality, those most at risk of grooming are young people and their parents who believe it will never happen to them, the youths who have supportive parents and activity filled lives. The reason they are most at risk is exactly because they think it will never happen to them, so they are not looking out for the signs – the supposed football scout who turns up at youth football matches, speaks to parents and gains their trust, or the person who advertises exam tuition classes in the family home. Over time that person gains the trust of the family, and at the same time learns about the youth, and hence can identify their vulnerability, or waits for a vulnerability to show. All it takes is an argument with parents, a broken relationship, or some poor school results, and they then become a shoulder to cry on, a person who understands. It is at this stage the sexual exploitation can start in earnest, and before the youth or parents realise what is happening, it can often be too late. The whole point of the child sexual exploitation grassroots sports training is to help those who work regularly with youths to identify the signs, such as the football scout who is attending youth matches, but who hasn’t previously contacted the local Football Association to arrange their attendance, the child who usually turns up to swimming club on their own but who has recently been turning up with an adult who isn’t a family member or friend, a player who has started to act violently towards other players on the field, or who will no longer undress infront of their team mates in the changing rooms. All of this is placing a big responsibility on sports coaches and managers, and they shouldn’t be expected to do it alone. Parents should also be aware of the signs, not just in their own children, but listen to their sons and daughters when they are talking about the changes they are seeing in their friends. A friend whose parents are on low income, and all of a sudden the friend has a brand new iPhone which he uses at school but which his parents don’t know about. The friend who is wearing new clothes and is talking about the new ‘older’ friends she is chatting to online. The youth who suddenly has new football boots and is being dropped off at training in an unknown vehicle. While we can reflect on how sad it is that we have to be suspicious of others, it is exactly these suspicions which can help to prevent future child sexual exploitation. Just being an extra set of eyes and ears, and if we see something which doesn’t seem right, to challenge it. If the football scout is genuine, they will accept that they have to be listed with the local Football Association, if the person taking an interest in the young swimmer is a family friend they should be happy to provide their name if asked.

Updated Statement Regarding PSG v Chelsea Metro Incident

Today summonses were served by the Metropolitan Police Service on 5 Chelsea FC fans in relation to the Paris Metro incident a few weeks ago.

This afternoon there has been a lot of incorrect media reporting about the content of the summonses and their likely outcome, as well as further publication of the fans’ personal details and private life. We can assure concerned Chelsea fans that we are currently working to correct this incorrect and misleading reporting.

We have not seen all of the summonses but we can comment on what we have seen and what we know about this area of law. The summonses are for Section 14b Football Spectators Act football banning orders. They are not for criminal charges of racist offences.  As we stated previously, the Metropolitan Police Service cannot bring charges of racist offences against fans for their alleged actions overseas, only the French police can do that. The summonses do not act as European Arrest Warrants, no fan can be extradited to France on the basis of a summons, nor can they be sent to prison in the UK.

The first hearing of these cases is 25th March 2015, it will come as no surprise that this has been set 2 days prior to the England v Lithuania match. The fact that these summonses were served on the day of the CFCvPSG match is no happy coincidence, and the cynics among us would say it was done to create another media storm, and to further cement a trial by media against these fans. With this in mind, We repeat our warnings of the past few weeks, if you are a Chelsea fan, please think carefully about your social media interaction tonight, as lazy journalism will no doubt continue, with the media publishing comments from twitter or Facebook and many of these may be taken out of context. We are a vocal supporters of freedom of the press so it is a shame that we are having to warn fans about the dangers of exercising their right to freedom of speech on social media, but sadly in relation to this incident, fair reporting has not been conducted by some of the media, and fans need to protect themselves from potential damage to reputation.

For further information, please see our previous statement linked on the right hand side of this page.

Alison Gurden, Barrister & Melanie Cooke, Solicitor

Statement by @gurdena & @CookeMelanie Answering Questions of Worried Chelsea Fans and Confirming Support For All Football Fans

In the past 36 hours we have received numerous queries from Chelsea fans, concerned that their presence on a Paris Metro train may result in them being hounded by the press, arrested and sent to Paris for trial, and issued with a lengthy football banning order by the English courts.

Alison Gurden’s blog on the media witch-hunt and Twitter lynch-mob received over 3000 views in just 24 hours. It is hoped that Chelsea fans who went to Paris took her advice and either privatised their social media accounts, or only posted comments and photos which cannot be twisted and turned against them.  The blog is printed beneath this press release.

We are aware that many fans who were on the Metro train have already been harassed by the press, with reporters camping outside their houses and shouting through their letter boxes. Some fans’ family members and friends have also been tracked down by reporters and asked for comment.  The Paris incident itself has faded into the background in much of the newspaper reporting, with the newspapers instead choosing to identify a fan’s employer, school, university, family members and political affiliations. We are aware of fans who have been suspended from their employment, and others who are unable to attend college due to this press hounding.

The question many fans have asked is “will I end up in a Paris jail for just being in the photo taken on the Metro train?”. While we cannot give a definitive answer to this, any fan who is wanted by the Paris police, and who is on UK soil, must first be arrested in the UK under a European Arrest Warrant. This is a legal process, and any arrest can be challenged, however it must be challenged very early on, when the fan first appears in the English Magistrates Court. A fan is unlikely to be interviewed at the police station if they are arrested under a European Arrest Warrant, but they are entitled to legal advice and assistance and to have a family member or friend notified that they are under arrest.  A fan can also apply for bail when they first appear in the English Magistrates Court. The European Arrest Warrant is not just a rubber stamp to extradite a fan to Paris, but only if the fan challenges it from the very beginning, if they don’t challenge it, they could find themselves in a Paris court within 14 days.

The Metropolitan Police Service has issued a statement making it clear that it will seek football banning orders on all those involved in the incident on the Metro train. This will no doubt be in the form of a court summons, delivered by hand, to a fan at their home address. It will probably be delivered very early in the morning. These summons are usually accompanied by a costs schedule which states that the costs of opposing the police application will be £5000, but if the fan agrees in writing, there and then, to accept the ban, the costs will be waived. In our experience this is scaremongering. While we accept that the police can ask for costs in a case where they are successful in their football banning order application, the costs rarely reach anywhere close to £5000.

While we do not condone racism in any context, but we do believe in due process of law. It is evident that there is a gap in the protection of fan’s rights in high profile situations such as this.  We have experience of high profile football fan cases and we act in the best interests of the football fan client when handling the press, negotiating with employers or colleges, and representing in court. We are independent, not politically connected, nor affiliated to any organisation or football club, and will continue to support Chelsea FC fans, and any other fans facing a trial by media.

Alison Gurden, Barrister, 1 Gray’s Inn Square Chambers
Melanie Cooke, Solicitor.

The Danger of the Twitter Lynch Mob to Football Fans – Chelsea Fans Guilt by Association

The media and social media outpouring of hatred towards the Chelsea fans who are alleged to have been racist towards a passenger on the Paris Metro has again opened up the wider attitude that the media and much of the public have towards football fans.

I have watched the video, which has gone viral, and on the face of it, it shows a black male being pushed off of the Metro train a few times by some white males who have been identified as Chelsea fans. There is also singing which appears to be either identify the fans as racist or as one fan has told the media, as a song about John Terry and his acquittal of a racism charge.

Its not the video that concerns me, in due course, the police will no doubt identify those fans who were doing the pushing and the singing and apply for Section 14b Football Spectators Act football banning orders on them. These orders can be applied for in the English Magistrates Court, they are civil, and will not amount to criminal charges, and have a lesser burden of proof.

The fear is that the police will apply for orders on anyone who is identified as being near the doors of that carriage. I have appealed decisions of the Magistrates Court ordering Section 14b civil football banning orders for 3 years on fans for doing nothing more than standing in a train carriage holding a bottle of beer and wearing a football scarf. Fortunately the Crown Court usually sees sense and overturns the ban, but not before the fan has been outed as a ‘hooligan’. This can have grave consequences on their lives, such as loss of jobs, promotion, or college course, none of which they can get back when their football banning order is overturned.

Unlike the assertion of the Press, some other commentators and even the Met Police, it is not possible for criminal charges to be brought against the fans in the English courts. And therein lies the problem… None of the fans who were on that Metro carriage and who had their photo taken, will be given the opportunity to have the allegations made against them aired in court in front of a jury. Certain people are already being identified by the press as ‘thugs’ and ‘racist’ when in actual fact the video shows nothing more than them standing on the Metro train. The social media fury has turned into a witch hunt and a lynchmob, and people who have not been charged with any offences have had their details taken from their social media accounts and published around the World. Try telling an employer that the fact your name, face, and where you work is plastered on the front page of a tabloid is all a bit of a misunderstanding.

Social media is now the new judge and jury. Twitter users are calling for a 17 year old to ‘hand himself in’ after he gave an interview in which he said he was in the Metro train carriage. Worse still there are some very vile and abusive comments being posted about him, by professional adults, the very people who are taking such a stance against racist abuse are themselves abusing in another form, and that makes them no better than anyone who has carried out racist abuse.

I always inform football fans who are facing criminal charges that unfortunately, as they are a football fan, they are guilty until proven innocent, and this has never been more evident than what I have seen tonight in the newspapers, tv and social media. All of a sudden everyone has a comment on racist football fans..especially if it comes with a slot on national tv, or a photo in the national press.

One of the first things I ask fans I represent is for them to pass me their social media account details. What they may think is football banter, others may decide is offensive. I am giving that warning to all Chelsea fans tonight, if your Facebook, twitter or instagram accounts are open to the public, be sure there is nothing on there which can be twisted by the press. I have dealt with cases in the past where the family members of a fan have been threatened via Facebook for nothing more than being linked to the fan and an obvious family member. Don’t for one minute think that the populist media will not troll your Facebook account to find out what they can and use it to their advantage.

This furore will die down in a couple of days and the media will have moved onto something else, and the twitter users who have trolled the 17 yr old fan will go back to posting funny videos of cats. The damage that may be done to a fan who has been outed may not go away so easily. An employer will not overturn a suspension or a dismissal due to the fact the media attention has died down, a fan’s children will still face the prospect of cyber bullying from those with nothing better to do.

All I ask is that if you are a Chelsea fan you protect yourself and think long and hard about what you post on social media in the next few days, and if you have open accounts, it may be wise to make them private for a few days. If you are one of the twitter lynchmob, please think carefully about what you are posting as you may be ruining the lives of people you have never met, are never likely to meet, and who have caused you no harm.

Criminal Justice System for Dummies – or an account to assist Boris Johnson and Chris Grayling in understanding some of the problems with the Criminal Justice System

A few weeks ago, Boris Johnson said he wanted to run CPS London and the London Courts as he could make them work more efficiently. I question whether Boris Johnson has ever been into a Magistrates Court, although I accept that more and more of his MP colleagues are seeing the inside of a court dock!

So here’s is a dummies guide to the process of a case coming to trial for Boris Johnson, Chris Grayling and all the others who think they know how to run OUR criminal justice system better than we do! Please bear with me this is a long tale, but there is a reason for that which will become obvious at the end.

PC Pleb attends the scene of a crime, he is confronted with an angry victim ‘ I dialed 999 nearly 2 hours ago.. Where have you been?’ Sorry Ma’am’ says PC Pleb on his 5th apology of the day ‘ but I had to take someone to hospital, the ambulance service didn’t turn up, probably on account of the fact there were only 5 ambulances covering our area…it’s the cuts you see’

PC Pleb takes an account from the victim but isn’t quite sure about the weak identification evidence, he needs to check it out with someone more experienced, he calls his Inspector. His Inspector tells him she can’t talk as she is doing custody time limit and detainee welfare checks on all 4 custody suites in her area. ‘Oh, I am on my way back to the Police Station I shall come and see you’ says PC Pleb. ‘ I’m not in a police station’ says his Inspector, I’m doing the checks remotely by telephone without actually being able to see a single detainee as I’m also Silver Commander at 2 different major incidents, I’m the only Inspector available today. Call the CPS.’

PC Pleb calls the CPS and after the 3rd attempt to get through, Prosecutor Harassed answers the phone. She is not actually a qualified lawyer, and has no court experience and is very stressed. ‘ It’s the lack of staff, so many are off on sickness with stress, the pressure of having to deal with so many calls is getting to all of us.. ‘ she apologises when PC Pleb complains about the delay in getting through. As PC Pleb is explaining his case, Prosecutor Harassed is aware of other calls coming through that she can’t answer, she needs to get PC Pleb off of the phone. ‘You need an ID parade’ says Prosecutor Harassed, ‘ring back when you have done one’. PC Pleb is confused by this ‘But the victim says it was her neighbour, so all she will do is identify her neighbour, my query is with the fact it was dark, she didn’t have her glasses on and couldn’t have seen properly’ says an exacerbated PC Pleb. But to no avail, Prosecutor Harassed is adamant and cuts the call.

Fast forward to the 1st court date. Nasty Neighbour, who attended the ID parade and was picked out by the victim, attends court and pleads not guilty. The trial is set for 11 months time, it can’t be sooner as so many courts in London have closed that there is now no court space. Prosecutor Disillusioned is prosecuting in court, she has no dates to avoid for the witnesses, despite the fact the Victim and PC Pleb have specifically given their holiday dates to the CPS in advance. But these dates are sitting in the CPS inbox. The case workers who used to collate these files have all been made redundant. But the emails are in good company with another 1000 odd emails which haven’t been opened.

5 months later Defence Solicitor Just Hanging In There is still trying to obtain papers from the CPS. His secretary spends hours each day with the phone on loud speaker ringing out to the CPS, but, like the emails, those who used to answer the phones, they are long gone, replaced by Electronic Working. The only problem is that it doesn’t actually work.

Defence Solicitor Just Hanging In There asks the court to list the case for a mention. This is difficult for the court as it has no court staff to handle the court listings, so he receives a general letter telling him that the District Judge is compiling a list of cases where the CPS are not complying with their obligations, but sadly there is no space for a hearing. ‘ Well, that will work then’, thinks Defence Solicitor Just Hanging In There.

1 week prior to the trial PC Pleb gets a phone call telling him he has to attend court for the trial ‘ but it’s my only rest day that week’ he moans. ‘The court doesn’t run for your convenience’ he is told. He duly informs his 2 children that their day out is cancelled as he has to be at court.

The night before the trial, the victim tosses and turns all night, worried about going to court the next day. A few hours previously someone in the CPS had realised that nothing had been done on the file, no trial preparation, and the case clearly wasn’t ready. ‘ Ring Chambers and instruct a barrister to go to court tomorrow, let them get the kicking from the District Judge’ says CPS Manager Seven ( there are another six managers but they are all in a meeting deciding on what to discuss in tomorrow’s meeting!).

Barrister Worn Out and Skint turns up at court on behalf of the CPS the next day to explain to the judge that the case can’t go ahead. The District Judge asks for a background to the case, but unfortunately Barrister Worn Out and Skint doesn’t know the case. He explains to the District Judge ‘ all the papers are electronic these days, but I don’t have a CPS tablet and they won’t allow us to load them into our own laptops. They did say they would send some papers to me, but they don’t have a spare courier, apparently they used up the courier budget months ago.’

Defence Solicitor Just Hanging In There asks the court throw out the case as it’s been going on long enough and the CPS have provided no papers. District Judge Constrained By Targets tells the defence that it isn’t professional to raise this on the day of trial, and that it should be raised sooner. Defence Solicitor Just Hanging In There explains that the court refused his request for a hearing, but is told that he should have tried harder..

The trial is adjourned, without PC Pleb or the victim setting foot in the court. Barrister Worn Out and Skint asks that they are brought into court so that the adjournment can be explained, but by that time the court clerk has already arranged to take work from the overloaded court next door. All parties leave feeling ignored and frustrated. That’s just how it is.

Fast forward another 6 months and the same situation applies, with one difference, Prosecutor Experienced looks at the file the night before the trial and realises that the identification evidence is flawed and there is no realistic prospect of conviction. He emails the court a discontinuance notice, but the court computer system has crashed, and the discontinuance notice doesn’t get through. Prosecutor Experienced tries to send a discontinuance notice to the defence but the CPS system has also crashed, so he puts the notice in the post as he walks out of the office that night.

On the day of trial, Round 2, all parties are there except a prosecutor. The court clerk finally manages to get hold of a CPS manager and is told that the case was discontinued last night. At the same time, Defence Solicitor Just Hanging In There gets a call from his office to say that a discontinuance notice just arrived in the post. The victim leaves the court in tears, after another sleepless night. Nasty Neighbour leaves the court very annoyed, he protested his innocence all the way through this, but lost his job due to the adverse publicity. Defence Solicitor Just Hanging In There walks away wondering about how long it will take the Legal Aid Authority to deny him any fee for the 2 ineffective trial hearings. PC Pleb calls his wife, he might be able to spend part of his 2nd lost rest day with her after all.

This is a very long and sorry tale, and if you have reached the end you are probably feeling the same way those of us in the Criminal Justice System feel…worn out and wondering how we got into this mess. The answer to that question is pretty clear in this case. Provide sufficient resources to the CPS so that they can employ experienced staff and give them the discretion to make decisions. That way PC Pleb’s initial concerns about identification problems would have been confirmed by a lawyer with experience of court work, either on the initial phone call or shortly after on a file review, and all the wasted cost and stress of this case would have been avoided.

*Some of the details of this case have been changed to protect my client, but this type of fiasco is happening every day across the Country in magistrates courts.

Pitch Invasions are the New Pyro

Pitch invasions are common occurrences at rugby grounds after international matches. People may not welcome it, but the pitch invasion is not regarded as criminal activity or a serious problem. The youngsters who exuberantly invade the pitch when their side wins are not potential criminals, and should not be regarded as such”. Comment by David Maclean MP during the House of Commons debate on the Football (Offences and Disorder) Bill 16th April 1999

In a month where Spiderman has been removed from the pitch at Sunderland”s Stadium of Light and a Gorilla advertising campaign saw three men invade the pitch at White Hart Lane with the purpose of advertising the headphones endorsed by Spurs, it is becoming obvious that pitch invasions are becoming the 2014/15 football season trend. Incidents of pyro use in stadiums seems to have decreased. ‘Pyro is so last season’ is a comment made by a fan a few weeks ago, and I think he is right.

I represent football fans who have been arrested and charged with football offences, and last year I was in court week after week representing fans who were facing up to 3 months in prison and a football banning order for having possession of pyro in a stadium. This year I have already seen a huge increase in pitch invasion cases. Unfortunately, what is classed as ‘exuberance’ at rugby, is not classed as the same at a football match. Pitch invasion is a criminal offence, it carries a fine and is also likely to result in a football banning order.

The debates in Parliament at the time the legislation relating to pitch invasions at football was being passed, seemed to indicate that it was being made a criminal offence in order to prevent violence on the pitch. The offence of pitch invasion was introduced in 1991, in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster and the recommendation by Lord Justice Taylor in his 1989 report that the fences should be removed at football stadiums. In the same year, there was a pitch invasion by Birmingham fans at Crystal Palace which ended up with sixteen people being taken to hospital, one with stab wounds, and the match was held up for 26 minutes. This seemed to be the final straw for a Government which was not overly keen on football fans. The Government decided something has to be done to prevent rioting fans coming onto the pitch and hence, the offence of pitch invasion was created in the Football (Offences) Act 1991.

While most football fans will agree that they go along to football to watch the match and don’t want it being disrupted by disorderly behaviour on the pitch, the footage of the first pitch invader at the Tottenham Hotspur v Partizan Belgrade shows that most fans were not overly concerned about the fact the match was being held up for a couple of minutes while the invader took selfies on the pitch. Neither the fans nor the players had quite so much good humour by the time the third invader was running shirtless around the pitch. Were these invasions carried out by fans who were likely to commit disorder at future football matches, and who should be banned from football matches for a least three years, and also forced to report to police and hand in their passports every time England or Spurs play overseas? In my opinion, this is not criminal activity which justifies a football banning order. It should be a club matter.

There is no denying that the club could face punishment for not preventing the pitch invasion, UEFA are considering charges which could result in a hefty fine, and the advertising revenue may be affected. It is common in televised matches that the club has to pay compensation to Sky Sports or BT Sport for the loss in advertising revenue which is a result of the TV cameras being turned away from the invader on the pitch. The club has wide reaching powers to ban a fan, and most clubs use this power. In addition if they want to do so, they can bring a claim through the civil courts for any loss revenue.

So you would think that as the clubs have ample power to deal with these invasions, that the courts would not be overly concerned about imposing their own restrictions…well think again. In addition to a fine, the courts regularly impose a football banning order, which means that the fan will be banned from attending any regulated football match for the next three years, and will also have to notify the police if they change address, as well as having to hand in their passport to the Police whenever England or their club play overseas.

The fact that a fan is apologetic for the fact that they tried to hug the referee, or wanted to congratulate a goal scorer, is not enough to prevent the courts imposing a ban. Recently a pitch invader was taken off of the pitch by the stewards, who in a lack of judgment took the fan past the Away fans, causing them to become vocal and throw coins at the fan on the pitch, this was deemed by the court to be the fault of the fan on the pitch, and something which required a ban as otherwise the fan may go to a football match again and do the same thing. Nothing was said about the fact that the opposing fans were themselves committing an offence by throwing coins, nor that the steward had completely misjudged the situation, or that the Club had already issued the fan with a Club ban.

Arguments that the Club is most likely to impose a ban on the fan often hold no weight with the courts, they still seem to feel it is their duty to impose the football banning order, even though they have to accept that if a fan is banned by a Club they are highly unlikely to be invading their pitch any time soon. The Police are notified by the Club if a fan is banned, and will look out for the fan at away matches, and will notify the Club if the fan is seen at an away match. The fan who purchased the ticket for the banned fan is usually also banned by the Club.

Hence, the pitch invasion is being treated with the same severity by the police and the courts as the use of pyro. No mater what the circumstances, a pitch invader faces a football banning order. That is not to say that it is a foregone conclusion, and in many cases I have persuaded the courts that they should not impose a football banning order, however it is an uphill struggle and fans should be aware of this.

After all as was said in Parliament during the debate on creating the offence of pitch invasion, “we who follow the rugby code..have no need for legislation of this kind…Rugby has been well described as a game designed for ruffians but played by gentlemen..”. Football is not rugby, and the same behaviour of rugby fans carried out in a football stadium faces the full force of the law. The law is certainly not equal when it comes to football fans.

Lets stop Kidding Ourselves – the Criminal Justice System is fast running out of Justice, but the time limits must be obeyed.

Following on from my rant a few weeks ago, which went viral and was supported by people working in all areas of the criminal justice system and beyond, but was ignored by the Ministry of Justice, here is the next installment.

It is 1am and I have just finished my 19 hour work day trying to triage criminal legal aid cases, but I do hope that the Lord Chancellor and Justice Minister are enjoying their, very long, summer recess, courtesy of the tax payer.

What is frightening is that the Ministry of Justice and other Government Departments are doing nothing to try and stem the blood loss of the criminal justice system as it gushes out from us caused by the ‘we are all in it together’ (unless we are on summer recess at a Portuguese villa or enjoying the hospitality of a Russian Oligarch on his yacht in the Mediterranean) austerity cuts. This all sounds very melodramatic, but I think it is my way of saying that I am moving towards hysteria, and not in a good way.

I have a suggestion for the Ministry of Justice and other Government departments to help them realise what is blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever set foot in a police station, court room or prison – although, I accept that it is a bit difficult to do that when you are whinging about the fact you had to resign from your constituency role as receiving only £28000 a year in expenses to cover a second home has made life intolerable.  Ditch the forms and the time limits and concentrate on getting the Criminal Justice System back to a workable state.

The CPS will now rarely serve the full papers in a magistrates court case more than 14 days prior to trial, its not entirely their fault as the each person in the office who wasn’t offered a ridiculously large sum of tax payers money to leave under voluntary release redundancy is now doing the work of the 10 people who were. But lets face it, completing a form in triplicate to confirm that another form has been completed is an important task, that pesky preparation of trial files can wait.

In any event, the CPS can’t serve the statements they don’t have. PC Single Crewed, covering an area of 35 miles on his own, is highly unlikely to have the time to write up his statement, and ensure that it actually includes all the relevant details. But fear not, he is going to be given a tablet so that he can write his statements on the go….now all he needs to do is drive and type at the same time..oh, but isn’t that illegal?
Note to the Rt Hon Teresa May..‘please exempt police officers from the texting and driving ban – yes, I know its dangerous but the officer needs to tick those boxes, so that another member of staff can check to make sure he has ticked the boxes within the set time limit’.

By a miracle, the Police and CPS manage to serve the papers in good time prior to the trial, and so its full steam ahead for the trial…or is it? Dwindling Fast and Co Defence Solicitors are unable to find a lawyer who can take a day out to go and visit their client in prison to discuss their case. All but one lawyer was laid off last week due to legal aid cuts – something to do with fat cat lawyers, who stood up to a man named Grayling, getting their comeuppance.

Even if they can find a lawyer, the chances are that when they get to the prison it will be on lockdown due to a shortage of prison officers. But on the bright side, the private prisons are employing lots of temporary staff, on minimum wage rate, who have no powers of arrest. This means that for anyone who wants to try and take contraband into prison it’s their lucky day, get caught and the staff can’t arrest you, all they can do is refuse to let you in and call the police…better luck when you try again next week, by which time PC Single Crewed who is 35 miles away may just have arrived to answer the call.

Dwindling Fast and Co Defence Solicitors send a junior barrister to court to argue that that want to serve a defence case statement out of time, something to do with no staff, prison lockdowns and the papers being served 7 months late by the CPS. The court is mindful of the Criminal Procedure Rules and the phrase ‘dealing with the case efficiently and expeditiously‘ which glows from the front page of the numerous memos the court receives from the Ministry of Justice. Hence, no extension of time for the junior barrister, just a feeling of being in the headmasters office as the court explains that “The Court does not run at the convenience of the Defence”. The Junior barrister does accept that clearly is the case, the court doesn’t seem to run for the convenience of anyone any more… but time limits are time limits and like targets they must be obeyed at all costs, despite the fact they are now unworkable for all parties.

Hence, the Police, CPS and Defence all rush to try and cobble together a case to ensure that the court time limits are complied with…

# the CPS should have made an application for the witness to give evidence behind a screen, but the time limit for that has been and gone, and anyway, if the witness shuts her eyes while giving evidence, isn’t that the same thing?
# the defendant would have liked to have brought along some witnesses, but they couldn’t get the time off work due to staff shortages, they work for the Ambulance Service (and that’s another story);
# the police officer is sitting in the swanky new video suite in his police station (which is stuck out on an industrial park next to the motorway – police stations which are in the town and which the public can get to easily are so 1990s) waiting to give evidence via video link rather than coming to court. This is perfect apart from the fact the case has been listed in a court room which has a broken video link unit….it is due to be fixed as soon as the new budget is received, can the officer please sit there until April 2015?

And then, after a two hour wait, the court informs everyone that it hasn’t got time to deal with the case due to over listing…and the Magistrate announces “we are very sorry, but that’s just the way it is”. What this actually means is that the case doesn’t fall into the current categories of priority, and the court is monitored to ensure it is keeping to its time limits for the priority trials, so all other cases suffer.

That’s just the way it is for –
* the defendant who will have to go back to jail on remand and have the stress of this case hanging over him for a while longer;
* the witness who wasn’t able to sleep last night for the fear of having to come to court today;
* the police officer who had his rest day cancelled so that he could attend court; and
* the junior barrister who will just about cover her train fare with her fee for the day.

Yes, unless all of us caught up in this criminal injustice system do something about it, that’s just the way it is….


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