This morning I was in Court to conduct the remains of a "part heard" trial. Most unsatisfactory in any respect, a part heard trial occurs when a trial, set for a certain amount of time, cannot be completed in that time. As a result, there is a major administrative nightmare of arranging a suitable date when the trial can be completed, ensuring that all of the original Bench can be present, along with the original legal advisor, civilian witnesses, Police witnesses, interpretors, prosecutor, defence advocate. As you can imagine, this is something to be avoided. Ultimately, if a suitable date cannot be agreed, the trial is declared a mis-trial and it all has to start over again, which is in itself a nightmare as all the previously examined witness have to return to Court as well.
If you've never been to Court as a witness, you can only imagine the stress involved, especially if the witnesses, defendant, injured party are children or vulnerable in some other way.
OK, in the middle of January I started a trial where the defendant was charged with several assaults in a domestic violence setting where two of the I/Ps were allegedly assaulted purely because they had special educational needs.
It became clear at about noon that the trial was not going to finish within its allocated time slot so the legal advisor began, reluctantly, to canvass a part heard date. Now, in this case, the Court was due to sit in the afternoon and everybody was willing to return after lunch to conclude the trial. Except that we were not "allowed" to do so because these days trials must fit within certain time-frame boxes. Previously, our afternoon caseload would have been moved to another Court without any problem at all.
Now, to cut a long story short, it took the legal advisor and the admin staff in the listing office two hours and ten minutes to make the arrangements for the part heard date which was, clearly, today. The trial was completed in just over one hour and that, I've every reason to think, would have been the time required on that afternoon in January. Probably less in fact, as things were fresh in minds and didn't need refreshing as was the case this morning.
So vulnerable witnesses had to be brought back to Court twice, the whole morning Court was written off for the completion of the trial and I'm convinced that the overall quality of the trial will have been compromised by the enforced break in between the two parts.
Does it make sense? Is that a good way to administer justice? Well, it is to the bean counters. Let me explain.
If a trial extends into the afternoon when not scheduled to do so, that is counted as a cost against the budget whereby a certain number of cases can be dealt with in a given amount of time. The senior management would have been hauled over the coals to explain the breakdown in their very neatly ordered system.
If, however, the trial goes part heard to another day, that doesn't count as it can be absorbed into the system as just another day at Court, giving, in my view, a thoroughly mis-leading impression that things are working and being maintained within budget when in fact, what would have been the costs of just over an hour of Court time in the afternoon turned into over two hours of administration PLUS the time required to complete the trial today.
The personal and psychological cost to those involved in the trial counts for absolutely NOTHING.
Justice at any cost? Don't make me laugh.