So the Ministry of Justice is to be hit with a further £148m of budget cuts – yet more bad news for the fast-dwindling number of criminal legal aid practitioners, particularly in the magistrates’ courts.
But is money being wasted by the MoJ in the conduct of high-profile criminal trials? Have you noticed that such trials seem to drag on forever, often with numerous pre-trial and post-trial court appearances for one reason or another? Examples abound. But it was not always so.
Years ago my firm represented a man charged with a murder committed on 14 November 1957. The defence pleaded diminished responsibility, a then new provision introduced by the Homicide Act 1957 and only the second such plea in England at that time. The jury had a lot to cope with: a concept the like of which they had not heard of before; psychiatric evidence for both prosecution and defence; legal submissions by eminent silks; and a lengthy summing up by the judge, who actually gave them copies of the act when they retired to reach a verdict (a verdict which in those days meant the difference between life and death).
In the event, the jury found capital murder proved and the trial was concluded at Birmingham Assizes on 19 December 1957. The subsequent appeal was dismissed by the CCA (Goddard CJ) on 14 January 1958. The whole thing was over and done with in two months, with Christmas in between.
A lot of money would be saved if modern cases proceeded with such despatch. Half a century of progress should result in matters speeding up, not slowing down.
John C Ritchie, Margetts & Ritchie, Birmingham