Prisoners appealing their convictions could have remained in jail for months longer than necessary because of delays at the Court of Appeal caused by “lamentable failures” by lawyers.
The court issued a hard-hitting judgment after four criminal appeals had to be immediately adjourned when it opened for a three-week session last month.
In each case, for appellants Jeremiah Dill, Alex Wolffe, William Franklyn Smith and Kiari Tucker, counsel had failed to meet court orders for written submission for the dates specified. The court threatened to issue fines for contempt or dismiss appeals, if its orders were not followed in future cases.
Defence lawyer Charles Richardson also came in for heavy criticism, for “playing the system” by failing to inform the court that he had been unable to track down his client.
The judgment, signed by Court of Appeal President Sir Christopher Clarke and Justices of Appeal Geoffrey Bell and Anthony Smellie, pointed to “a number of regrettable and disruptive applications for adjournment” on November 4.
It said: “We had before us, four applications to adjourn criminal appeals fixed to be heard in the following week.”
It said the applications came about “because counsel for the appellant had not complied with the orders of the court, to file written submissions by specified dates”.
One of the matters was pushed back to November 15 but the court “found ourselves with no option but to grant an adjournment in three of the cases”.
The judgment said adjournments have “several effects which are prejudicial to the administration of justice”.
It continued: “The appellant will not have his or her case heard until months later.
“If a convicted person’s appeal against his conviction is allowed, he or she will have remained in prison for longer than he or she would have done if the case had been heard when originally fixed and when it should have been heard.”
The judgment added that other cases become delayed as a knock-on effect, and that expenditure is wasted as Justices of the Court “are unable to fulfil their judicial function in the empty days”.
It acknowledged that the Court of Appeal “would not normally publish a ruling of this nature”.
But it added: “We do so in order to draw attention to the lamentable failures which compelled us to take the course that we did, to explain to a wider audience why we have been unable to sit for three days of the current session, and to indicate that this state of affairs must not be allowed to be repeated.”
Sir Christopher will meet with the Criminal Bar to discuss changes ahead of the March session.
The judgment rebuked Mr Richardson over a separate case that was repeatedly put on hold.
It said Mr Richardson had allowed the Supreme Court to make an order in November 2017 to provide submissions within 14 days “without indicating that he could not do so or would be in any difficulty”.
When that order was not complied with, Mr Richardson told the Court in February 2018 that he could produce a skeleton quickly and a new hearing was fixed for March 2018.
The judgment said: “No such skeleton was ever produced and it appears that at some stage in March Mr Richardson indicated that he had not heard from the appellant and was not properly instructed.
“The true position was that Mr Richardson was awaiting instructions from his client, with whom he said he had no means of communication.
“Mr Richardson told us that he was acting in the interest of his client and did not want to harm his appeal by saying that he was trying to track him down. He said that he would not act in this way again.”
The judgment continued: “It is plainly unacceptable to play the system along, by letting the court think that the submission can be provided by the date specified, when that is not, in fact, the case, because counsel is not in contact with the client and is without instructions; a fact of which the Court should be told.”
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