Delays in criminal trials

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In R v Anwar Rosser (Bradford Crown Court) the sentencing remarks of Mr Justice Coulson were significant for experts, particularly the final two paragraphs.

The experts involved were heavily criticised for delays to this criminal trial. Here is an extract:

“It is becoming much too common for major criminal trials to be adjourned because experts (usually, but not exclusively, those instructed by the defendants) require more time to complete their investigations and produce their reports. Experts need to understand that the court‐ordered timetable must be complied with and, if they cannot comply with it, they should say so at the outset. I am left with the nagging suspicion that experts take on too much work and do not provide clear information as to what they can and cannot do within the relevant timescale. The result is that deadlines are missed and judges who are case‐managing these sorts of trials are left with an impossible choice between either going ahead without that expert evidence (which could give rise to an appeal, thus bringing everything back to square one) or adjourning the trial. 

If experts in civil cases regularly failed to deliver their reports on time, they would quickly find that they had no further expert witness work. The clients would not stand for it. It is high time that this approach was adopted by the criminal justice system. I consider that, in this case, the delays have caused real and unacceptable suffering to Riley Turner’s family. If victims are to be brought even further into the centre of the criminal justice system, then it must be a fundamental requirement that experts comply with court timetables, thereby avoiding the delays and adjournments that have disfigured this case.”

Do remember Part 33 of the Criminal Procedure Rules must be complied with.  

We are asked criminal experts for their thoughts. Some of the comments are below:

I'm sure this doesn't need pointing out, but I wonder if the connection will be made between this and cutting experts'; fees by 20%. Several experts colleagues of mine have signalled their intent to pull out of this sort of work and I'm sure this isn't unique to Nottingham. - Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist

I totally agree with the Judge that if experts agree with timescales in preparing the report, they should deliver on most occasions. Of course there is bound to be exceptional circumstances. The issue is sometimes with the instructing firm as they tend to be focused only on certain experts and do not try hard enough to find the expert who can deliver it on time. - Consultant Forensic Psychiatry

They were a complete misrepresentation of what happens in most criminal cases. It's a pity that the Judge didn't consider the wider picture such as:
Prosecution labs charging defence experts for access to information and exhibits with inherent delays due to funding; 
General cutbacks in LAA funding of expert reports; 
Police forces selecting what evidence types to review/investigate; 
Production of 'streamlined' forensic reports which are not to an evidential standard. - Forensic Expert

Along with many other Drug Expert Witnesses, I have been to Court on day 1 of a trial on more than one occasion and been handed a Defence Expert Witness statement consisting of dozens of pages to consider and comment upon immediately.  Prosecutors are expected to act within the strict time scales dictated by the Judges or risk having their case dismissed whereas the Defence seem to be given free rein to take all the time they need. It is quite clear that the Defence will continue to drag their heels knowing full well that they can demand and be granted an appeal should their Defence Experts evidence not be heard. Judge Coulson has commented upon an issue that has been a well-known problem for some time. I look forward to hearing about any Judge that is actually brave enough to make a ruling. - Drug Expert

While I don’t doubt that this has been HHJ Coulson’s experience and this has caused distress and unnecessary delays in cases he has presided over, my experience working as an EW in criminal cases, is a little different. In the last four weeks I have had three listed hearings moved due to unavailability of Judges, Courts or police officers/other Experts. While this is a fact of the life of a Court EW and has to be accepted, of late this seems to be coming more prevalent, as it seems are two-week warned lists for a period perhaps two months in the future which prevents me from being able to take any other work in this window to avoid a clash of dates. Perhaps echoing HHJ’s comments but from a different perspective, all too often, in my experience, it is the CPS who fail to provide papers on time, or at least this is often what I am told by the instructing solicitors, who almost invariably are my only point of contact with the case. All too frequently I find that the quality of the submissions, perhaps constrained by cuts to the budgets available within the system, particularly the forensic submissions, are deficient for the purposes that I am asked to comment on. I find that assumptions have been made around the case exhibits, which prevent me from being able to fully address the questions I am asked. Frequently I find that on investigation, papers required have not been provided or when I dig deeper, it may be that another very considerable bundle will arrive, often within days of the deadline, which may take many extra hours of work to digest and to amend what has been prepared to date, without remuneration for the burden. I wonder if this is a common experience among colleagues? - Head of Drugs Services

It is interesting as this may also be linked to the cutbacks in funding. Funding is often only agreed for part of what needs to be investigated, rather than all. That is, as psychologists we may be asked to consider 'learning disability', but find during the assessment that there is an underlying deficit in another area that might be of importance; hence the need for further investigation. I have direct experience of this and yes, it slows the court down, but we need to thank central government and the LAA who administer their directives. Companies fight hard with the LAA to have me complete assessments, because I quote for the full assessment, whereas others quote for part, and then they go back and ask for more time, at increased cost to both the Court and the LAA. I am never late, but I have had to ask for more and more because of the restrictions in funding impacting on the time to conduct my assessments. One also needs to add in the prisons, which have become increasingly hostile toward visitors and allocating enough time for experts. This also means we need to return to the prison to complete assessments. It is not uncommon to take an hour from beginning to pass through security to the time when the prisoner appears! A recent case required nearly two hours. The amount of time available to conduct the assessments is being reduced due to the actions of the prisons. Blaming experts is a simple process, but one needs to consider the world in which we work and the huge number of obstacles we need to overcome. - Consultant Psychologist