Prosecutors read the riot act over delays
5:37pm Tuesday 1st October 2013 in News
A JUDGE has criticised the Crown Prosecution Service for failing to prepare cases in time as it struggles to get to grips with new technology.
Judge Douglas Field, the resident judge at Swindon Crown Court, said 20 current cases had been delayed by paperwork not done on time.
And prosecutors had failed to tell the court they would not be able to comply with orders for them to hand over evidence.
The delay at the early stage of crown court proceedings means victims, witnesses and defendants are left waiting for cases to be heard.
Now John Montague, the chief crown prosecutor for Wiltshire, has appeared before Judge Field to explain the problems his staff face as they change the way they work.
But the judge warned him he would keep a close eye on things to ensure issues were ironed out.
When a case is sent to the crown court the prosecution, which has suffered funding cuts like all government departments, is given six weeks to submit papers providing evidence to both the defence and the court.
Most of the work is now done on computers in Eastleigh, Hamp-shire, after it was moved from the Chippenham office when the service became part part of CPS Wessex.
Judge Field wanted explanations for the cases of a Swindon man accused of a violent robbery and a Warminster man charged with grievous bodily harm.
Days earlier he had expressed concern to a prosecutor about another case and two weeks earlier a fellow judge had complained about three more.
The judge said when he wrote to the CPS in August asking why procedure had failed he was told delays were caused by staff illness and new technology.
“In other words I was led to believe these difficulties were being overcome,” he said.
“Since August 19 there have been no less than 20 cases where the papers have not been served on time. We are facing a very serious situation.
“It has to be remembered that case management is a vital role for all parties in criminal litigation. One of the obligations is that if a party can see that an order is not going to be complied with they are under a duty to notify the court and the other party and give an explanation as to why they cant comply.
“What particularly concerns me in these two cases is, firstly there was an advocate in court who made a note of the order; that is, there is a note of the date that the papers should be served.
“Secondly, the order made by the Recorder was served on the CPS and it was completely ignored. There was nothing, no response from the CPS.
“It seems to me there is no excuse for having a system that diarises the due dates. Thisshould have given automatic warning that these orders were not being complied with and there should have been acknowledgements of my order, and even out of general courtesy there should be notification if they will not be met.”
He said for many years he had ordered defence solicitors to appear before him to explain why they had been late complying with orders, and ‘what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’.
Mr Montague apologised for the problems, saying it was unusualas Wiltshire was one of the best areas in the country for complying with judges’ orders.
He said the move to digital working, replacing paper with computer screens, had started at the Eastleigh office in August.
Now much of the work was centralised he said staff levels and sickness were not an issue and all the problems would be ironed out within a week or so.
He said: “Certainly the message has been received loud and clear. I will be taking it back to my teams at Eastleigh.”