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Trial delays: a question of fairness

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Victoria Greening (File photograph)

Delays to Supreme Court trials will cause extra stress for defendants, victims and the police, a lawyer predicted yesterday.Victoria Greening, of Resolution Chambers, said that the inability to hold jury trials — potentially until next year — could have serious consequences.Ms Greening said: “The real thing that I am concerned about is the backlog and the stress on the police having all these people awaiting trial for serious offences who are on bail.“At the same time, there are those who are being held indefinitely in pretty oppressive, extraordinarily oppressive, conditions. The visits are still restricted. There are a number of things that have changed at the prison, so their restrictions of liberty are restricted even further.”Ms Greening added that there was a backlog of 15 cases that may not be heard until next year and further cases would be brought before the court over the next few months.She said: “All the crimes being investigated currently with people on bail waiting to be charged now, and the ones who will be arrested between now and the end of the year, will have to wait in the queue behind those 15 that won’t be heard until next year.”Ms Greening added that because of the circumstances many defendants charged with serious offences would be granted bail, which could cause stress to their alleged victims.She said: “We have a situation now where if you are the victim of a crime, and you are somewhat satisfied someone was remanded, you’re now being told the trial is going to hang over your head longer. On top of that, in fairness to the defendant, he is going to be let out because they can’t keep him in custody for months on end.“It’s stressful for them, and it’s stressful for police to have a large number of defendants charged with serious matters out on bail.”She added that continued delays could also increase legal costs as the number of hearings for each case went up.Ms Greening said: “The number of times a lawyer has to go to court has cost implications to the public purse, if it’s legal aid, and on private paying clients if they are not.”Supreme Court halted jury trials earlier this year over Covid-19 fears.Trials were expected to resume early next month, but Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons told the Supreme Court last week that it was possible that trials would not be able to be held until next year.Mrs Justice Simmons explained that the problem was the lack of suitable venues that could house a jury trial and comply with Covid-19 regulations.She told the court that potential locations had been identified, but the courts did not have the funds to make the required renovations. Mrs Justice Simmons warned that the delays may have “consequences”, which the courts will have to deal with.Larry Scott, a barrister, agreed that long delays would affect people remanded in custody for trial.He added: “They are rolled over without getting their day in court to prove their innocence. “It is all about the rights of the citizen and the basic principle of the presumption of innocence — everyone is so entitled to that presumption and must be given every opportunity to establish that fact, be released from custody and have a fair trial speedily.“That’s what the judge is referring to — the fact that she has a duty to uphold the defendants’ rights and is aware that she is not able to move her process along as is her duty.”Mark Pettingill, of Chancery Legal, said the “wheels of justice” should turn “smoothly and expeditiously” and defendants had a constitutional right to a trial within a reasonable time.But he added: “Reasonable time depends on the circumstances, and none of us foresaw a global pandemic.“We have to deal with what we have to deal with, and I think the Supreme Court Registry and the Chief Justice are doing everything they possibly can to ensure that the wheels of justice turn, but it’s not easy.“We have obviously fallen behind, we have had to miss weeks, but we are all in the same boat.“There’s going to have to be a lot of overtime that is put in by everybody and that is being done.”

Larry Scott (File photograph)
Mark Pettingill (File photograph)