Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dropped Cases

The Times has published an article setting out that last year more than 2,000 cases were thrown out of Court as the case was not ready:

More than 2,000 cases that should have gone to trial in the Crown Court were thrown out last year because they were not ready, a watchdog says today.

The cases involve serious offences including burglary, theft, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, possession of drugs and possession with intent
to supply drugs.

The inspectors of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) say today in their report on the performance of the service that even though this throw-out rate is better than it was, it remains poor. In total 2,325 cases were lost because prosecutors were not ready to proceed.

The cases come before magistrates, who decide if the cases should be sent to the Crown Court for trial. Under pressure not to grant repeated adjournments for prosecutors, magistrates are increasingly taking a tough line and discharging cases when papers are not ready, evidence not complete or witnesses not lined up.

I am not sure why this has become a news story because this has been happening for years. The full text of the report is an interesting read for a laymans view on the sheer number of cases that are dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Times article starts off by referring to what is known as committal proceedings. That is where the Client has elected to have his trial in the Crown Court, or the Court had stated that the Client's case is too serious to be dealt with in a Magistrates Court. The whole purpose of committal proceedings was originally to test the evidence in a case to ensure that was a prima facie case to be moved to the Crown Court. If the case was lacking in evidence then the case would be dropped, usually with a warning that the case may be revived if the evidential defects could be corrected. Before I started my job committal proceedings would involve all of the witnesses coming to Court and giving their evidence orally to Court in a mini trial, and submissions would be made to the Court on the basis of the evidence. If those submissions were accepted the case would be dismissed, if the submissions were not accepted the case would be moved to the Crown Court. The procedure was changed over time so that witnesses did not have to give oral evidence at committal hearings and that written statements could be relied upon instead. Now committal proceedings are simple:

  1. The Client pleads not guilty to an either way offence and either the Court declines to deal with his case at the Magistrates Court, or the Client elects to have his case dealt with at the Crown Court;
  2. The case is adjourned to allow the Prosecution time to prepare a bundle of papers containing statements setting out the evidence against the Client;
  3. That paper bundle is served on the Court and the Defence Solicitor. The Defence Solicitor then informs the Court and the CPS whether or not the Client consents to the case being moved to the Crown Court on the basis of the strength of the evidence in the papers;
  4. If the CPS do not prepare the evidential papers in time the Court will usually allow an adjournment for the CPS to have extra time to prepare their papers. But, if the case is not ready on the next hearing date the Court will usually refuse a further adjournment unless the case is of a more serious nature;
  5. If the Defence Solicitor does not consent to the case being committed to the Crown Court a further hearing takes place where submissions are made to the Court that the papers do not establish a case against the Client - if this submission is successful the case is dismissed by the Court. If the submissions are unsuccessful the case is moved to the Crown Court.

Schedule 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 contains provisions to do away with committal proceedings. There were widespread rumours a few years ago that the government were going bring in to force the new provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to abolish committal proceedings but so far these provisions have just remained on the statute book without coming in to force.

There really is no excuse for the CPS not to be ready for committal proceedings on time - and in my experience the vast majority of the cases that are not ready for committal are due to the Police not providing evidence that the CPS had previously asked for.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is every excuse for the CPS not to be ready on time as you point out, often the Police have not provided the evidence by way of witness statements.

Smartie said...

Yawn...try working in the CPS then you'll realise that it isnt exactly the lawyers fault for why things aren't done. Most lawyers i know are doing 4, sometimes 5, days in court. Their correspondence to witness care / CJU etc is done when they are in court with memo pads or file endorsements - it depends how quickly someone reacts to these requests.

The lawyers get the stick cos they are the face of representation!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree smartie - The defence have the luxury of demanding this demanding that and then blame the cps or police when it is not ready - The cps and Police are far more overworked than the defence and that is based on vast experience over 24 years - What a feeble attempt to discredit other professions this is

Gavin said...

Anon,

My post was not an attempt to discredit the Police or the CPS but to provide an explanation for the press article in terms of what happens in real life.

If a person is in custody for a case where the evidence is not convincing is it right that they should stay in custody a few more weeks because a target committal date set 6 to 8 weeks previously cannot be honoured? That does not not seem right.

In the vast majority of cases that proceed to a read through committal all of the evidence was available at the point of charge as CPS Direct or CPS rarely seem to want to authorise a charge unless there is evidence against the defendant. There is no excuse for a case not to be ready for committal if the evidence was ready and available at the first appearance.

Committal hearings should soon be scrapped by the Government in any event.

Anonymous said...

Gavin

You are right. The CPS do authorise a charge and in theory you would think that the case would be ready for committal. Maybe what some of your readers do not realise is that the CPS are provided with the evidence available at the time, for the CPS to be able to provide a charging decision. It is not always possible for the full evidence to be made available. For example, a case of attempted murder where there is a computer that needs to be interrogated will not afford the Police the time under PACE to have all the evidence made available for various reasons. There will be sufficient evidence for the CPS to make that decision for charging and the rest of the evidence is served in due course

I appreciate this is an extreme case but no-one can expect the Police to have all the evidence available in such a case.

Smartie said...

>>I agree smartie - The defence have the luxury of demanding this demanding that and then blame the cps or police when it is not ready - The cps and Police are far more overworked than the defence and that is based on vast experience over 24 years - What a feeble attempt to discredit other professions this is

I was a Criminal Barrister doing purely defence work for a short time, before i switched to TSols (total depression) and more recently the CPS. As a Defence lawyer i understand where some views come from re. the inefficiency of the CPS, as it is very apparent when things arent given or done on time despite many defence requests, but now that i am on the "inside" of the CPS profession i can only empathise with the CPS lawyers.

I personally thought that joining the public sector would mean flexible working hours, taking it easy, prep time etc, but it is much more demanding than being a Defence Barrister and this is something i've tried to explain to my friends in Chambers, who most days do one thing and have the papers the night before. In hindsight, having an evening to prepare ONE thing is luxury!

Anyway, i know i've veered off your point Gavin, but i just wanted to have a bit of a whinge about the reality of CPS life - the lawyers being in the firing line for some things out of their control. I dont know what i've signed up for, lol ;)))

Skewed System said...

There are often occasions where the Police do not provide all the evidence requested by the CPS, for various reasons, ranging from laziness on the part of the officer, through heavy workloads to impossible demands.

However, on more than once occasion I know that a local CPS lawyer has blamed the police in the magistrates court for the evidence not being provided, and those claims were lies.

The lies were complained about at a senior level, but to my knowledge there wasn't an apology to the police or (more importantly) the court.

It might be prudent to pause for thought and consider that the Police are easiest to blame, as we are often the only party not present in court to protest!

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London Solicitors said...

This is a very interesting read. I personally think that the CPS has plenty of time to prepare all the paperwork and sometimes it can take years before the actual trial date.

Notary Public Lancaster said...

The CPS needs drastic reform.

Notary Public Islington said...

Excellnt blog. Seems to have gone quiet lately though?

Zachary Shepherd said...

The rise of annual drop-out cases should be a wake-up call for the prosecutors to be more eager in pursuing justice. They should coordinate with the police regarding the use of evidence in court to make the case stronger, all in the pursuit of closing the case judicially.

Anonymous said...

hi all, excellent blog. i am a victim of domestic abuse and received a letter a couple of days ago telling me that cps have dropped the case. i hav 3 tipes of physical evidence aswell as bruising. but i hav no witnesses. my husband pleaded ' not guilty'im very upset that this didnt even go to court. but i think your comments have given me the reason for this. i hate that i will never get justice for what my husband did.

Ellen said...

hi, I am a vicitm of rape. Having had the man charged and appear in court another CPS lawyer has reviewed the case and decided it should be dropped. I can't believe it! How can this be done; it's disgusting. I have been told of this today and horrendous as it is finding this blog helps to know that others have been in a similar position.