Is there any justice in speedy, summary justice?
Manchester United fans all over the world are seething at the treatment of their captain, Harry Maguire on the Greek island of Mykonos.
Harry Maguire was enjoying some down time in Greece with family and friends, when he found himself charged with offences including aggravated assault, resisting arrest and attempted bribery.
Harry Maguire, his brother and a friend were convicted of these offences on 25 August 2020 by a Judge on the island of Syros, in what his representatives have called a ‘rushed’ trial. The trial took place in Mr Maguire’s absence and reportedly without the defence having adequate time to prepare. Reports in the media have suggested that evidence for the trial which took place at 10am on Tuesday was served late on Monday night.
Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise to defence practitioners, who are all too familiar with the dread associated with receiving papers at 9.55am for a trial listed to start at 10am.
‘Summary Justice is Speedy Justice’ was a slogan adopted by a Labour government in their July 2006 report, titled ‘Delivering Simple, Speedy, Summary Justice’. The report included proposals to improve ‘the speed and effectiveness of the magistrates’ court’, including working with the Judiciary to ‘adopt a robust case management approach to adjournments in summary cases so that the expectation is that they will proceed on the day if one of the parties has simply failed to comply with directions or to be adequately prepared’.
The words ‘Proceedings in a magistrates’ court should be simple and speedy’ can now be found within the Criminal Practice Directions, which govern case management in the criminal courts.
What the defence are entitled to at the very first hearing in the Magistrates’ Court depends on whether the Officer in the Case has deemed the case to be a ‘NGAP’ (not guilty anticipated plea) or ‘GAP’ (yes, you guessed it, a guilty anticipated plea). Following the first appearance in the case of a not guilty plea, the Crown are usually ordered to serve any further evidence and disclosure within 28 days.
Despite the perhaps unrealistic statement that it ‘should rarely be the case that an application to adjourn based on a failure to serve evidence is made on the day of trial’ (Criminal Practice Direction VI: Trial, Rule 24C.21), it is often the case that evidence and disclosure is not served in adequate time, or at all in the Magistrates’ Court.
Where, like in Harry Maguire’s case, evidence or disclosure is served on the day of trial (or very shortly before) the approach taken by the Magistrates’ Courts is one of ‘the show must go on’. This approach is now encouraged in the practice directions, which state that where an adjournment is sought because of a prosecution failure to disclose material, the court should consider whether the matter can be resolved by the giving of disclosure immediately (Criminal Practice Directions VI: Trial, Rule 24C.24). In reality, this means the court giving the defence representative a 20-minute adjournment to wait for 15-minutes for an email from the prosecutor attaching the material and 5-minutes to take full instructions ready for trial.
To add insult to injury, the practice directions allow the court to consider, in the context of an adjournment application, the actions of ‘the party who complains’ in bringing the prosecution’s failure to the attention of the court. This has the effect of shifting the burden and placing the blame at the door of the defence for not chasing the prosecution to comply with their obligations.
This approach really does meet the ‘speedy’ criteria but can often lead to trials proceeding without the defence having sight of all relevant material or having adequate time to prepare – just as in Harry Maguire’s case.
Harry Maguire has confirmed his intention to appeal his conviction. This is also an option available to Defendants on home soil, but it is not without risk. A Defendant opting to appeal their conviction to the Crown Court faces the possibility of being ordered to pay much higher costs and an increased sentence if the appeal is dismissed.
The strains on the criminal justice system are clear for all to see and have only been made more glaringly obvious by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, ‘summary justice’, or the lack thereof, is not a new concept and nor does there appear to be any appetite to remedy it.