Given the government’s obsession with awarding legal services and contracts to the biggest and cheapest providers, I thought I would provide some information about what has been going on at our local court for the last six months.
In relation to Serco, the biggest problem appears to be lack of staff, meaning that courts cannot be staffed nor defendants brought up to court on time. In a recent domestic violence case, Serco was unable to staff the normal remand court and a trial court where the defendant was in custody. As a consequence, all parties, including the victim, were kept waiting some considerable time.
In relation to the provision of interpreters, I recently had a defendant who was produced at court on no fewer than five occasions without an interpreter being available. The police had failed to book an interpreter the first time and then on the following four occasions, no one turned up despite an interpreter being booked by the court. Eventually, the court decided that enough was enough and bailed the defendant.
This was a serious case involving an extremely vulnerable alleged victim. But because of the way in which the defendant had been treated (that is, not getting an effective hearing for nearly a week), the court reluctantly decided the defendant should be bailed until such time as proper arrangements could be made.
More recently, in relation to another defendant who had been on police bail for nearly a year and interviewed with an interpreter on a number of occasions during that period, the police again failed to make arrangements for an interpreter for the first hearing. The case was deferred for a few days to arrange an interpreter. At the follow-up hearing, the interpreter said they would be there at 2pm and the case was put back to 2pm. Then the interpreter said they were not coming. The court had reluctantly to adjourn once more. Since I began dictating this letter the interpreter has failed to attend the preliminary hearing at the Crown court.
These are just a few recent examples from my own experience and I am sure there are many other solicitors who have similar tales of woe. With the possible outsourcing of the probation service to organisations that clearly cannot presently carry out their duties, let alone take on the duties of the probation service, it is no wonder that those who work in the legal system are becoming increasingly frustrated.
I have the option of removing myself from the madness that is representing defendants in the magistrates’ court. Regrettably, those who sit as justices and district judges will become increasingly frustrated at the naivety of those apparently ‘responsible’ for ensuring that justice is swiftly dealt with in the local magistrates’ court.
Matthew Coxall, Thomas Boyd Whyte Solicitors, Bexleyheath, Kent