The Court of Appeal has rejected challenges from two convicted criminals, while relating a remarkable display of hostilities between the trial judge and defence counsel.
Lady Justice Hallett DBE said it was a sad fact that the relationship between lawyers and the judge ‘deteriorated significantly’ during the course of last year's trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court (pictured). But Hallett said this did not affect the outcome of the case.
One counsel complained that the judge, Her Honour Judge Kaul QC, had demonstrated 'disproportionate hostility' to the extent that the two Lithuanian appellants had been deprived of a fair trial. Judge Kaul, meanwhile, made a complaint to the Bar Standards Board about counsel's conduct of the case, Hallett's judgment states. Counsel had sought to withdraw in light of that complaint claming a conflict of interest, but this was declined.
The appeal against conviction and sentence was made by Juozas Franckevicius and Edmundus Barkauskas, jailed for nine and five years respectively for their part in a conspiracy to steal expensive cars and receive stolen parts. The trial itself had to be re-listed, with the retrial estimated at six weeks but taking an 'astonishing' 15 weeks in total.
Among the grounds of appeal were the judge's refusal to order greater disclosure and failure to give the jury fuller directions. Counsel for Barkauskas also appealed on the basis of the judge's 'hostile attitude' towards defence counsel and conducting the trial in such a way that prejudiced the defence.
It was claimed the judge made 'unnecessary sarcastic and critical remarks' about the absence of a barrister on the first days of the original trial, in which the jury later sent a message to the judge complaining about 'rude and childish' behaviour of counsel.
During the retrial, the judge stated in front of the defendants that counsel's cross-examination in the original trial in relation to a mistake by investigating officers had been 'some of the poorest I have ever seen'.
It is reported that the judge 'frequently addressed the jury directly in an informal manner' and commented on how awful the trial was. Barkauskas was said to feel there were elements of the trial to which he was 'not privy', and while this happened without the jury it nevertheless affected the 'general atmosphere' of the trial.
Hallett accepted that, with the benefit of hindsight, the trial judge should not have expressed her feelings about counsel's behaviour in front of the defendants. It would also have been better if Kaul had kept email communications 'to a minimum'.
But she dismissed the applications for appeal, saying the main focus should be the safety of the convictions rather than the relationship between counsel and the judge.
Some counsel submissions suggested a 'lack of proper respect for the court', said Hallett, with certain complaints demonstrating an 'unfortunate over-sensitivity'.
Hallett added: 'The judge did not allow her undoubted exasperation at counsel's behaviour to affect the fairness of the trial. None of the incidents on which reliance was placed occurred in the presence of the jury and there is nothing before us to suggest that the judge's criticism of defence counsel impacted on the applicants personally.'