A Crown court judge has strongly criticised expert witnesses for ‘unconscionable’ delays in serving reports after delays led to the murder trial of a four-year-old boy being adjourned three times.
Sentencing Anwar Rosser, 33, at Bradford Crown Court to life imprisonment for the murder of four-year-old Riley Turner, His Honour Judge Coulson said the delays caused unnecessary pain and suffering to Riley Turner’s family as they waited for an effective trial.
Rosser’s trial was originally due to take place in July 2013, but had to be adjourned three times when defence experts failed to comply with the directions of the court for the production of experts’ reports.
Coulson attached no blame for the delays to the defendant’s legal team, but said the delays by defence experts were ‘unconscionable’, with one report not produced until 12 January 2014.
Coulson said: ‘It is becoming too common for major criminal trials to be adjourned because experts (usually, but not exclusively, those instructed by the defendants) require more time to complete their investigations and produce their reports.
‘Experts need to understand that the court-ordered timetable must be complied with and, if they cannot comply with it, they should say so at the outset,’ he said.
The judge said he is left with a ‘nagging suspicion’ that experts take on too much work and do not provide clear information as to what they can and cannot do within the relevant timescale.
The result, he added, is that deadlines are missed and judges who are case-managing such trials are left with an impossible choice between either going ahead without expert evidence, which could give rise to an appeal, or adjourning the trial.
‘If experts in civil cases regularly failed to deliver reports in time, they would quickly find that they had no further expert witness work. The clients would not stand for it,’ Coulson noted.
‘It is high time that this approach was adopted by the criminal justice system. If victims are to be brought even further into the centre of the criminal justice system, then it must be a fundamental requirement that experts comply with court timetables, thereby avoiding the delays and adjournments that have disfigured this case.’