CRIMELINE is a legal information website of note. I reproduce from it below a most interesting commentary.
Drinkwater v Solihull Magistrates’ Court  EWHC 765 (Admin)
Judgment in this case was handed down today. The court quashed a court’s decision to refuse to adjourn a trial following the non-attendance of the defendant.
The court failed to follow well established case law in this area, and this case is perhaps a timely reminder of those principles.
Of more interest however is this:
President of the Queen's Bench Division :
“I agree. I only wish to add some observations in relation to the underlying cause of the delay in this case, a delay which was inimical to the interests of justice.
It is self-evident that proceedings in the Magistrates' Courts ought to be simple, speedy and summary. That requires close attention to the Criminal Procedure Rules and active case management before and during the trial.
The problem which necessitated the first adjournment in this case appears to have arisen because insufficient attention was given to managing the case so that it was concluded within its time estimate.
It appears that at the first hearing a time estimate of a day was given for the case. I can see nothing wrong with that time estimate; it was a simple case which plainly ought to have been concluded within a day. Since the amendment to CPR Part 3.10, a court must consider setting a timetable for the trial of a case. We were told by counsel that, although it was their experience that this was done in the Crown Court, it was not being done in the Magistrates' Courts in cases such as the present. Whether that experience reflects more general practice or not, it is clear that in any case in the Magistrates' Court where a trial is likely to be other than a short one, it should be the ordinary practice for a timetable for the conduct of a trial to be set at the time the trial date is fixed and the estimate made.
In setting the timetable, the court should scrutinise the reasons why it is said a witness is necessary and the time examination and cross-examination would take. It is also important in setting a timetable to have regard to the nature of the issues and the fact that the trial is a summary trial; any estimate of more than a day in the Magistrates' Courts should be scrutinised with the utmost rigour. Parties must realise that a summary trial requires a proportionate approach. If a timetable for the trial is not set, it is difficult to have any real confidence that the estimate is accurate.
At the commencement of the trial, the Magistrates' Court should check with the parties that the timetable and the estimates remain valid. If there is any variation which lengthens the estimate, the court should make every effort to see if the trial can still be accommodated that day by sitting late or otherwise.
Once the trial has started, the court must actively manage the trial, keeping an eye on progress in relation to the timetable. It is essential in a Magistrates' Court, just as the Crown Court, that the court has in mind the observations of Judge LJ, as he then was, made as long ago as 2004 in Jisl  EWCA Crim 696 at paragraph 114-115:
"The starting point is simple. Justice must be done. The defendant is entitled to a fair trial: and, which is sometimes overlooked, the prosecution is equally entitled to a reasonable opportunity to present the evidence against the defendant. It is not however a concomitant of the entitlement to a fair trial that either or both sides are further entitled to take as much time as they like, or for that matter, as long as counsel and solicitors or the defendants themselves think appropriate. Resources are limited. The funding for courts and judges, for prosecuting and the vast majority of defence lawyers is dependent on public money, for which there are many competing demands. Time itself is a resource. Every day unnecessarily used, while the trial meanders sluggishly to its eventual conclusion, represents another day's stressful waiting for the remaining witnesses and the jurors in that particular trial, and no less important, continuing and increasing tension and worry for another defendant or defendants, some of whom are remanded in custody, and the witnesses in trials which are waiting their turn to be listed. It follows that the sensible use of time requires judicial management and control.
Almost exactly a year ago in R v Chaaban  EWCA Crim. 1012 this Court endeavoured to explain the principle:
37. … nowadays, as part of his responsibility for managing the trial, the judge is expected to control the timetable and to manage the available time. Time is not unlimited. No one should assume that trials can continue to take as long or use up as much time as either or both sides may wish, or think, or assert, they need. The entitlement to a fair trial is not inconsistent with proper judicial control over the use of time. At the risk of stating the obvious, every trial which takes longer than it reasonably should is wasteful of limited resources. It also results in delays to justice in cases still waiting to be tried, adding to the tension and distress of victims, defendants, particularly those in custody awaiting trial, and witnesses. Most important of all it does nothing to assist the jury to reach a true verdict on the evidence.
38. In principle, the trial judge should exercise firm control over the timetable, where necessary, making clear in advance and throughout the trial that the timetable will be subject to appropriate constraints. With such necessary even-handedness and flexibility as the interests of the justice require as the case unfolds, the judge is entitled to direct that the trial is expected to conclude by a specific date and to exercise his powers to see that it does.""
There was, it appears, no active management of the trial by the court in the present case so that it concluded within the day. As Beatson J has explained at paragraph 4 of his judgment, the case did not start on time and the court does not appear to have taken any steps during the course of the trial to ensure that it was so managed that it would finish within the day, sitting late if necessary.
The consequences of the failure of setting a timetable and actively managing a case in the Magistrates' Courts can be much more serious in a particular case than in the Crown Court. In the Crown Court if a trial does not conclude within the estimate, the case will continue on the following day, although this undoubtedly has a serious impact on other cases as was pointed out in Jisl. In the Magistrates' Court, it is often not possible for a case to continue the following day. Although, where a case does not conclude within the estimate, every effort must be made to see if the trial can continue the following day, there are obvious practical difficulties, particularly given the commitments of the Magistrates and other business that has been scheduled for succeeding days. The practice has thus developed of adjourning a case that has not concluded for a period of two to three weeks, as we are told that that is the sort of time which is needed to find a time at which the availability of a courtroom, staff and, more importantly, the Magistrates, can be secured. A delay in the middle of a case for a period of two to three weeks is plainly inimical to the principles of speedy and summary justice. It is for these reasons and those given in Jisl essential that the closest attention is paid to timetabling, that the case is actively managed and concluded within the estimate.
As Beatson J has set out at paragraphs 5-9, there were severe difficulties in fixing the further hearing. The first date at which a continuation of the hearing was attempted was on 3 May 2011, some six weeks after the first day's hearing, a period that no doubt was the shortest period that could be found. That delay is not consistent with the principles of speedy and summary justice. Then difficulties emerged, as is so clearly set out in the judgment of Beatson J, in relation to the health of the claimant and her co-accused. This case therefore exemplifies not only the undesirable consequences of not finishing within the day's time estimate, but the real risks that can arise in such circumstances.
As is set out at paragraphs 10 to 13 of Beatson J's judgment, the claimant's solicitor attempted to see if the issue which then arose could be dealt with by a case management hearing without reserving an entire day for a trial which might prove ineffective. In the Crown Court, the question of whether the trial should proceed on 19 July 2011 would have been dealt with at a hearing prior to that date, either by the trial judge or, if he was unavailable, by another judge of the Crown Court. I can well understand the problems that faced the conscientious legal adviser and the restrictions on her ability to deal with the question of an adjournment. It is therefore desirable for some consideration to be given to the rules and practice that apply in the Magistrates' Courts on such occasions. Whereas it is appropriate for this court to emphasise the importance of compliance with the existing Criminal Procedure Rules and the serious consequences that flow from not complying with them, it is better that the issues relating to the best practice for dealing with questions of adjournments arising before the trial date be considered in a wider context.”