In August we saw the worst outbreak of violence and civil disorder in London and other major cities for many years. It came as a surprise to everyone who had to deal with the violence, looting, arson and general mayhem.
But it was not only the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), magistrates’ court staff and district judges who had to deal with what happened. Into the picture, almost unnoticed and effectively unappreciated, came the defence lawyers: solicitors, police station representatives and counsel.
From the time of arrest, when the duty solicitor or own solicitor was called upon, to the first magistrates’ court appearances, the defence ‘community’ played its part in full. We worked long and late into the night and the following morning. It should be noted that this work was undertaken on top of, and not instead of, a day’s work, and not for a guaranteed salary but in the interests of the client and of justice.
My experience at the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on the first night was illuminating. I arrived there at just after midnight and left after 6.30am - with another day’s work to follow. The defendants were brought to court in large batches, with only one set of papers from numerous police stations. The CPS photocopier broke down and delays followed.
The CPS objected to bail in each and every case - suggesting in every instance that the defendant would commit further offences, fail to attend court and interfere with the course of justice. It was effectively impossible, in the early hours of the morning, to counter such objections and all the defence lawyers gave of their best.
Time has now passed and calmer heads have been at work. But most recently the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) considered the various sentences passed on the offenders in R v Blackshaw & others  EWCA 2312. While I will not comment upon the judgment of the lord chief justice in relation to individual appellants, I read with some surprise and sadness his comments at paragraph 141: ‘We cannot leave these appeals without highlighting the committed and dedicated way in which a number of Crown courts and magistrates’ courts dealt with a large number of cases arising out of the public disturbances.
'Some magistrates’ courts sat, literally, through the night to dispose of the work. However, their best efforts would have been unsuccessful, and the speedy administration of justice would not have occurred if the Police Service, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Probation Service and the Prison Service had not fulfilled their own responsibilities by preparing the cases and bringing them and the defendants to early hearings.
‘The disposal of the cases in court represents the very end of a system in which these different services have distinct and independent responsibilities. At court, quite apart from judges and magistrates, the legal profession and court staff employed by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service made their own contributions to speed the processes along.
‘The efficient administration of justice represented a combined effort by all of them…’
Quite correctly he refers to the hard work undertaken by all parties at the courts, but he specifically referred to the legal profession and court staff employed by HMCTS (I interpret his remarks in that way because he refers to ‘different services’, which does not include the defence lawyers).
Yet he makes no mention of the hard work undertaken by the defence lawyers who also worked through the night. If all defence lawyers had insisted in following every rule in connection with the cases in the magistrates’ courts, the courts would not have been able to sit and deal with matters as swiftly as they did.
This paragraph of the judgment is perhaps an oversight on the part of the lord chief justice. If so he can pass an appropriate comment or write to the press and help restore confidence in the whole of the criminal justice system.
While legal aid rates are falling and defence lawyers are demoralised, a word of thanks and/or appreciation from the most senior judge in England and Wales would help raise morale.
Julian Young is a solicitor-advocate and senior partner of Julian Young & Co in London