Judge acts to reduce trial costs

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The Independent Online
REVOLUTIONARY steps were outlined yesterday by a senior judge to cut the length and cost of massive criminal trials. The moves come in the wake of criticism of recent City fraud trials, including the Blue Arrow case.

Mr Justice Brooke made public an experiment to make such trials more manageable as he ended the final chapter in the Blue Arrow affair.

The judge was appointed in April to hear what would have been Blue Arrow trials two and three, but formally acquitted remaining defendants after the Court of Appeal last month overturned guilty verdicts against four of their colleagues - Charles Villiers, Elizabeth Brimelow, Paul Smallwood and Tim Brown.

Mr Justice Brooke said he was making his comments in open court because 'I believe there is now a considerable public interest in the search for answers to the problems which are bedevilling these very large criminal trials'.

The next Blue Arrow hearing was due to start in October and last up to 10 weeks. Blue Arrow 3 was scheduled to begin in January next year and last up to three months.

Judge Justice Brooke admitted his own experience of the management of 'very large and complex' trials was limited, but said what he had already encountered might provide 'useful lessons' for the future.

The judge's role in driving proceedings forward was 'absolutely central'. But he commented: 'It is a very heavy management responsibility, comparable to the management of a very complex business project worth millions of pounds.

'It is essential in my view that the trial judge is provided with all the help he reasonably needs, including computer skills and trial management skills, if necessary, to carry out his duties.'

He said that in England a judge was duty-bound to sum up the facts of a case, but in a long trial this imposed 'an enormous intellectual and physical burden'.

Computer support was crucial and he was to be provided not only with the latest technology but an assistant versed in computer skills.

Mr Justice Brooke revealed that, for the first time in English courts, he would have a 'lap-top' computer with him in court, giving him access to any witness's words within 20 seconds.

Mr Justice Brooke said judges and all lawyers must be aware they were taking part in an activity with huge national resource costs. He added: 'I was not entirely joking when I suggested it might be useful to have an electric clock positioned in court behind my bench which showed, not the time, but the average overall daily costs of the trial.'

The future lay in harnessing and adapting modern techniques already common in other management fields, helping to solve the courts' 'seemingly intractable problems'.

Mr Justice Brooke's comments are being forwarded to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, and to the Judicial Studies Board.

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