If you have ever had the pleasure of attending Crown Court or Magistrates Court as a victim or a witness, then I am sure that you will find some similarity in the story I am about to tell….
During late July 2014, a child abuse report was made to the police. I’m not going to go into detail of the case; as it has no bearing on what I am writing about. Anyway, the next day the police took my statement. In the weeks and months that followed there was no communication from the Police, and any time I called with any questions I was told that they could not talk to me as I was not family. Therefore, all communication regarding this came to me through the victim or her family. I did my best to support the family during this process, and expected the guilty person to be locked up. To my surprise, the guilty party was arrested and bailed. He was free to continue to live in his nice 3 bed home and he was free to roam the town and free to inflict this dreadful act on some other child!
Finally at the end of June 2015, (11 months later!) I received a letter from the Criminal Justice System notifying me that I would be required to attend Reading Crown Court. Well, to my disappointment the trial was to start in March 2016!! Nearly 2 years after the initial report to the Police! The only reason for this, the Courts are running that far behind!!!!
I imagined that once at the Crown Court everything would be formal and efficient. Well, that couldn’t have been further from the truth! On the Friday before the trial starts, the family receive a call to say that a case has run over in the Court that we are supposed to attend, they could either move it to another court (closest is 40 mins away) or they could postpone it (this could be another 4-6 months from now!!) Well, as everyone involved had either blocked the time out in their diary or booked the time off work and the child had been through a lot of preparation the week before and had been given the time off school, it was decided that they would proceed at the alternative location. I received the official call at 4:35pm on the Friday before the trail began to say that I was required to appear at this new location at 10am on the Monday.
Monday morning arrives and I arrive at the family home at 8:45 am. Part of the family are taken in the family car and I have two with me. As we head off the mother receives a phone call from the victim support lady, Ashley (not her real name)…. She is on her way in to the original court that we were supposed to attend. “Did they not tell you that the case has been moved to x?” I hear the mum say. I couldn’t believe my ears, I asked where she was and quickly offered to pick her up on the way.
On arriving at the court we are all shown to a waiting room where other family members have gathered for support. We have the usual round of introductions and the administrator brings in a few witness statements, she hands them out, but mine is not there. “Am I not going to get my statement?” I ask. She asks who I am and queries if I was asked to attend on the Monday. I confirm that I was, and she disappears back to her office, returning a few minutes later with mine. She hands it to me and says that we should all check over our statement for any spelling or grammatical errors. I open mine and feel like I don’t want to recall this time, it was painful and I want to be strong for the victim and her mother. I decide I will leave it until I know when I am going in. The prosecutor arrives and wants to speak to us all. He advises that if this was going ahead in the original court, none of us would have been called into the court on the Monday! Since we had all turned up, he would do his best to get as many of us in, shortly followed by the statement that the court closes at 3pm! He returns to the court and has a word with the Judge, only to return and say that only the victim is likely to get called today, and if there was time for anyone else it would be me! I just couldn’t believe the confusion, the lack of organisation. Upon asking Ashley of her experience in these matters, I was informed sadly that this is almost always the case; “Unfortunately Bev, the right hand very rarely knows what the left hand is doing”. I could be here for a month if I was to mention everything that happened after that, but lets just say that this is how it continued!
On the long drive home through the rush hour traffic I couldn’t help but think of all the tax payers money that is wasted each day as these cases are postponed, delayed, moved or proceed. It’s not like they have a hundred court rooms to work out, the original court that we were meant to be in only has 5 court rooms and the one we actually attended only has 2! Can you imagine if our Supermarkets were run like this? Can you imagine if our insurance companies were run like this? This is where our Legal System is, this is where justice is supposed to happen!
I don’t profess to know anything about Law, and some may be angry with me for what I have written here, however, I only say it as I see it and this to me is the same as any other organisation. I spent some time thinking through organisations that we have worked with; I think that it is probably down to the old/existing culture that things are the way they are. With nearly 2 years of backlog, what organisation starts at 10am, stops for an hour’s lunch and then closes at 3pm? They are said to be ‘under pressure’ to catch up on their back log, but they are certainly not going to achieve it like this – they need some help.