So now we know; Roman Abramovich has won at least the first round of his monumental legal tussle with Boris Berezovsky. It seems that Russian media have had a feeding frenzy. The Russian billionaires have, according to some observers, contributed £150 million to some of London`s leading law firms and chambers. For matters that were alleged to have taken place in Russia London was the chosen place to have the case heard because, we are told, of the probity of the judiciary and confidence in the English legal system. So smiles all round at the Inns of Court and pink champagne for all involved is the order of the day. What a glowing testimony to our legal system that the biggest by cost of any legal case involving individuals took place in the land of Magna Carta.
And so to my sitting earlier this week in a common or garden magistrates` court metaphorically as far from the Commercial Court as my income is from that of the owner of Chelsea Football Club. At 10.00 a.m. the video appearance of the defendant to be committed to the crown court could not go ahead on time because the CPS had no file; apparently it had been sent to our other court building some miles away. About an hour later we trooped back in. Nobody was now quite certain where the missing file was but to all intents and purposes it was lost for the morning. Defence counsel agreed that the committal could proceed on her file and court`s information. Thankfully the prison had agreed to extend the defendant`s availability until 12.00 noon and the process was completed. The next case was a guilty plea on morning of trial to possession of class A heroin. The offender, a recent immigrant, who had no fixed abode had been remanded in custody for over five weeks and was rapidly dealt with by fine deemed served by his time incarcerated. He was told that if he had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity he would have saved himself being another remand in custody statistic. As a conclusion to our sitting around 12.40 p.m. we were about to issue a warrant against a non appearing defendant due for trial on a charge of criminal damage when he did actually turn up. At this point the CPS prosecutor told us that neither she nor defence solicitor had viewed the CCTV upon which the prosecution had apparently relied. Back in court at 12.55 p.m. the prosecutor told us that it was impossible to identify the defendant from the CCTV. Apparently the case had been progressed by police and CPS had not been involved until that morning and owing to the other misfortunes which could not in a hundred years be laid at the door of the prosecutor it was only at this late stage that the paucity of the evidence had been revealed. He was told that the case against him was dismissed with a word of advice concerning his late appearance. During our down time we were told that two CPS prosecutors had actually failed to turn up with no explanation available. Our colleagues were rather scathing in their opinions of the mismanagement at our local CPS office and had requested a written explanation. This was a frustrating morning for many by any account.
Argumenty I Fakty, Russia`s newspaper with the largest circulation, won`t be sending a reporter to my court to praise the British legal system.
I would refute any suggestion of those who might comment that this telling of a not atypical morning in a typical magistrates` court has a likelihood of reducing public confidence in the judiciary. What I would suggest is that those agencies upon whom the judiciary and the justice system rely, starved of funds as they are, whilst not on the point of collapse, are in serious need of imminent resuscitation. If there is much delay even the kiss of life might not be enough.