Judge throws out DPP bid to reopen three-year-old drink-driving case
A bid by prosecutors to reopen a drink-driving case that has dragged through the courts for three years has been rejected.
The Department of Public Prosecutions argued that the case against defendant Damon Edwards was erroneously dismissed by a magistrate earlier this year after months of delays.
Although Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams agreed that the case should have continued, she claimed it would not be fair for the case to be retried three years after Mr Edwards was first charged.
Mr Edwards first appeared in Magistrates’ Court in November 2019. He was charged with driving while impaired and failing to provide a sample of breath for analysis after being arrested four days earlier.
The coronavirus pandemic caused Mr Edwards’s trial to be postponed for two years until November 2021.
But a catalogue of administrative hurdles meant that the trial was adjourned a further three times until January this year.
On that occasion, trial magistrate Khamisi Tokunbo dismissed the case after the prosecutor called in sick and a replacement could not be found – a decision that the DPP appealed.
In a written judgment handed down this week, Mrs Justice Subair Williams noted that Mr Tokunbo could have adjourned the case yet again, as the Crown had already closed its case.
Mrs Justice Subair William wrote: “It seems to me that it would have been reasonable on the part of the acting magistrate to stand the matter down for a brief period to enable a prosecutor to be sent over from a neighbouring courtroom or to be dispatched from the office of the DPP.
“This is particularly so in this case because the evidence stage of the trial was nearing completion.
“That said, I cannot overstate it, it is a matter of general principle that it is not and ought not to be the responsibility of the court or its administration to embark on a search exercise to secure the appearance of a prosecutor in respect of listed court features.”
Mrs Justice Subair Williams added that it was not Mr Edwards’s fault that the trial had been repeatedly delayed.
She wrote: “On my assessment, it is unlikely that this matter would be tried before the end of this year, if this court ordered for the case to be remitted to the Magistrates’ Court for a retrial or trial continuation.
“At best, any further proceedings in the Magistrates’ Court would resume some three years after the information was laid.
“This in my view does not qualify as fair trial within a reasonable time frame, given these particular facts and circumstances.
“For these reasons, I allow the Crown’s appeal but decline to order a retrial or the continuation of the part-heard trial proceedings in the Magistrates’ Court.“
Last year Narinder Hargun, the Chief Justice, said that lawyers were often to blame for extended delays in court proceedings.
Mr Hargun spoke out after earlier complaints from lawyer Jerome Lynch KC that clerical errors and inefficiencies caused trials to drag on for years.
Earlier this year, Alexandra Domingues, the Registrar of the Courts, said that the judiciary’s case-management system was obsolete and needed to be upgraded as a priority.
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