Express & Star comment: Long trial wait is also a sentence
Crime on Thursday, trial on Friday, hanged on Saturday.
An exaggeration of the rapidity of the administration of justice long ago, perhaps, but not much.
In any event, compared to the past things today move at a snail’s pace. Does it matter? Is it not better to take your time to ensure due processes are gone through?
It does matter, and delay without good cause does not improve justice. There’s that old saying that justice delayed is justice denied, and on that basis defendants across our region are getting a raw deal.
Figures from the Ministry of Justice show the average time between a crime being committed and the case being completed at Shrewsbury Crown Court is an 815-day delay. That’s incredible.
Now put yourself in the shoes of somebody in the witness box at Shrewsbury Crown Court.
“Witness A, what were you doing 815 days ago?” In the normal course of events, you would have no idea. In the exceptional course of events which comes with being involved in a criminal trial, you will know what happened, and as a case being heard at Crown Court will generally be a serious crime, the very seriousness and drama will give you a memory.
How reliable that memory will be after 815 days is open to question, to say the least. You may think you can remember everything as if it was yesterday. But it wasn’t yesterday.
Maybe at some point in the future the view will be taken that any conviction which has significantly relied on recall memory at such a distance is inherently suspect. In such circumstances non-perishable evidence, like CCTV footage, becomes all the more important.
Wolverhampton Crown Court is 556 days. Well over a year. If you are unlucky enough to be involved in a case going through Stafford Crown Court, you can expect a wait of 633 days.
Objections to these delays do not rest solely on the dangers to justice. To keep accused people in limbo for months while serious charges hang over them is unfair, and is a sentence in itself, which is doubly unfair if they are eventually acquitted. They may, for instance, have been suspended from their jobs pending the outcome.
The justice system has been gradually dismantled before our eyes and is now falling apart. That’s a crime.