Sunday, July 10, 2005

Expedited? It Might Be For You

The Probation Service in London continually struggles with resources and it is not uncommon for them to be unable to carry out all the work that the Courts demand from them. I regularly have cases where people plead guilty and the Court adjourns the case for a number of weeks for an interview to take place with the Probation Service to produce a pre-sentence report to assist the Court when it comes to sentencing the Client. Most of the time the report is produced on time, but regularly the report is not completed due to 'a lack of resources'.

The answer, and I am sure that this was an idea from the Home Office during Mr. Blunkett's reign, to the 'lack of resources' problem was to create a system of 'expedited reports'. Under this system Defendants plead guilty and the Court gives the Defendant an appointment to see the Probation Service at a particular time on a particular day (usually within seven days) at Court, and as soon as the report has been produced the case is put in to Court and dealt with. Good idea in theory, absolutely horrible idea in practice.

'Expedited reports' have become a real pain in the backside for me. I have grown wise to the problems associated with expedited reports and if an appointment for the interview is given to my Client in the morning on or after 11.00 am I refuse to attend at Court until the afternoon as the report is never available before that time - although in practice it should be. Quite often I will arrive at Court for the afternoon expected a report to be ready as a result of an interview that was to take place about 11 am 'ish to find that it is not ready until something like 3.30 pm or even 4.00 pm!

Expedited reports only seem to benefit the Court. No doubt the Court will be seen as efficient if the number of days between a first appearance and subsequent disposal is very short. Generally the Probation Service are put under strain with these reports because they devote time from the interviewing officer from the time of the interview until the time the report is produced - and in my experience that is about 4 hours.

Now my real issue with these reports is that as they take a long time to produce it means that I am often left waiting around at Court with nothing to do but wait. Waiting is boring but it is more importantly a waste of public money if it can be avoided.

The net result is that in a drive to make the Court system appear to be more efficient the case gets dealt with quicker, but only after sucking up more resources from the Probation Service and wasting solicitors time. Overall it must cost a great deal more to dispose of a case by way of an expedited report than it does using the old fashioned 'normal' system.

Lord Chancellor if you want to cut costs from the criminal legal aid budget then why don't you look at the external cost drivers that cause wastage in the system rather than suggest that all solicitors and barristers are 'fat cat lawyers'?

1 comment:

Bystander said...

Benches have been frustrated by non-production of reports for years. I prefer on-the-day Fast Delivery (sic) reports, because when we order Standard Delivery Reports that require an appointment for interview 35% (on average) of defendants don't turn up, and the delay will then stretch out to weeks.