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Sex assault case is delayed again after 22 court hearings

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Magistrate Maxanne Anderson (Photograph supplied)
Lawyer Charles Richardson

A sex assault case which has taken almost three years and 22 court hearings to come to trial was adjourned again this week, despite a magistrate’s insistence that it could be delayed no longer.

The complainant told The Royal Gazette that each delay was “really upsetting”.

The woman said: “I feel like this makes it worse. It’s crazy. It’s unacceptable.”

The case involves a 36-year-old man charged with sexually assaulting and unlawfully assaulting the woman in May 2018. Neither can be named for legal reasons.

A Magistrates’ Court trial was due to take place on Wednesday – the ninth trial date set so far, according to prosecutors – but the man’s defence lawyer, Charles Richardson, was unable to attend the hearing due to a potential exposure to Covid-19.

Mr Richardson also failed to attend on a trial date set for Wednesday last week because of a sudden family bereavement.

Magistrate Tyrone Chin said this week that so far there had been 22 court hearings and the trial had been adjourned repeatedly, pointing the finger of blame in part at Mr Richardson.

“This is the tenth adjournment before trial due to the defence counsel,” claimed Mr Chin.

The magistrate said the case had suffered a “tortuous route” through the courts and must not be delayed further.

Mr Chin’s words echoed those of Magistrate Maxanne Anderson who was due to to preside over the trial on March 17.

After Mr Richardson did not attend that day, and noting his sudden bereavement, she said: “We need to get this moving.”

Ms Anderson said the court was in a difficult position because the trial could not proceed without defence counsel.

“We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” she said.

Ms Anderson set a new trial date of March 24, stating that hers was to be the “last adjournment” and that the case was “definitely a priority matter” due to the serious nature of the offences and how long ago they allegedly took place.

But Mr Chin then found himself in the same position on Wednesday.

He read out an e-mail that Mr Richardson sent to the court at 9.09am apologising for his absence. The trial was set for 9.30am.

The lawyer – who is the sole attorney at Compass Law – wrote that he had been advised to stay in his bubble until Friday due to a potential Covid-19 exposure, though he had tested negative for the virus.

It is understood that he had flagged the issue up earlier by telephone to the court.

“I have no one here from Charles Richardson’s firm,” Mr Chin said, adding that a representative should have been sent so calendars could be compared.

He asked Javone Rogers, for the Crown, to call Mr Richardson.

The defence lawyer was unable to answer because he was in an online Zoom court hearing but immediately confirmed by text that he was available for trial on June 22 and 23.

Mr Rogers said the new trial date would be the tenth trial date to be set.

“If it turns out that [Mr Richardson] is in another court we would still press for this matter to go ahead,” he said.

The prosecutor previously told the court that witnesses, including the complainant, had attended court on every trial date.

“It’s simply unreasonable for this amount of length of time for this matter to go to trial,” he said.

Mr Rogers added: “We need to get this to trial and not only for the complainant’s sake but for the defendant’s sake.”

Mr Chin said the trial “must proceed” on the next date and extended the defendant’s bail.

But the complainant later told The Royal Gazette she was not convinced it would happen.

“I used to get upset but last week Wednesday I was laughing,” she said. “Laughing instead of crying because it’s just ridiculous.”

She said before every trial date she had to prepare by reading through two lengthy statements she gave to police.

“Today was the first time that I haven’t read my statement,” she said. “It actually got adjourned every time that I read it. It takes a long time. It’s like I’m there all over again.”

Mr Richardson said: “There are valid reasons as to why this case has taken as long as it has but none of that am I able to comment on because the matter is still before the courts.”

He added: “I think it’s unfortunate that the magistrate saw fit to personally criticise me instead of keeping his comments confined to the process.”

The lawyer said sexual assault cases did “tend to take longer” to get to court, often because of the difficulty in scheduling dates suitable for all of the civilian witnesses.

•It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding criminal court cases. This is to prevent any statements being published that may jeopardise the outcome of that case.