'Unprepared, amateurish' - a juror condemns the police and CPS

Everybody is familiar with tales of how jury rooms are full of prejudices rather than open minds. What is less well aired are views on how justice is administered. But one recent juror has added an attack on how courts are run to her criticism of the approach of her fellow citizens.

"Working in a professional organisation that is constantly trying to improve, I feel that the way the system operated was unprofessional," she said, describing the police and the Crown Prosecution Service as appearing "disorganised, unprepared and amateurish".

Though aware that barristers and judges had other business to attend to behind the scenes, she was appalled at the shortness of the sittings. They rarely started before 11am and then broke for lunch after only an hour before concluding by 3pm, she said. "In the two cases I sat on, we could have done them in two days, but they dragged on for four to five days."

Part of the problem, she complained, was that too much repetitious evidence - particularly from police witnesses saying much the same thing - was presented. "I was surprised that the judge didn't take charge as much as I expected him to," she said.

The Metropolitan Police says officers receive basic training in how to conduct themselves in court and present evidence, with those in the CID obtaining more in-depth assistance. But the juror said the police she saw were not well prepared. "It didn't appear if the police had had any training in how to be a good witness. It was just not very professional." Moreover, the police officers often appeared in court only for the prosecuting barrister to discover that they had not read their statement - with the result that there would be a 15-minute delay while a photocopy was obtained. "It appeared so chaotic," she said.

In magistrates' courts, where it claims a conviction rate of 94 per cent, the CPS represents itself. But in the Crown Court, where its success rate is 90.5 per cent, it instructs independent barristers - and the juror was not impressed with those whom she saw.

"The CPS lawyers were not at all convincing. In one case, the summing up was so bad the lawyer seemed disinterested. But the defence barristers really impressed me. They knew what they were talking about and asked pertinent questions. They did a good job, but the CPS didn't make the most of what they had got."

Again drawing on her business experience, she suggested a lot of the problems resulted from not having a clear idea of the purpose of the whole process. Responding to the news that the Government is planning a review of the CPS, she said that "the British justice system is manifestly ineffectual and out-dated in its mode of operation".

"In business we're doing a lot of work on what's our focus. But the police didn't seem to have their vision right," she added. "They seemed to think it was to catch criminals, but what about prosecuting them?"

ROGER TRAPP

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