Suffolk: Judge hits out as system stagnates

A judge has launched a stinging attack on legal administrators for slowing down the justice system in Suffolk with unnecessary bureaucracy.

Judge David Goodin blasted legal aid providers for clogging up the court system with red tape after being compelled to adjourn a driving matter for the third time.

Ipswich Crown Court yesterday heard Judge Goodin’s stern criticism of the National Courts Team (NCT) - responsible for processing complex, high-risk and hardship applications for legal aid - awarded to people who would otherwise not be able to afford representation.

“This hearing has been listed for a second time,” he told crown prosecutor Robert O’Sullivan. “I am alarmed.”

Judge Goodin revealed he had already declined to adjourn the case in its entirety but the application had failed to reach solicitors in time for yesterday’s hearing, despite both legal teams being ready to proceed with committal.

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Mr O’Sullivan told Judge Goodin he was in no position to apportion blame for the delay but said there was a “proactive effort” being made to speed the process up, before request a further month’s adjournment.

But Judge Goodin continued his verbal assault, saying: “This sort of difficulty is hitting cases of all descriptions - not just this one.

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“There used to be a time when legal aid applications were turned round swiftly.

“There are enough difficulties built into our system without repeated examples of cases being delayed and delayed again because of applications for legal aid that were previously not a difficulty.

“There will be more delays unless someone gets a handle on the system.”

Yesterday’s hearing had been scheduled for February and should by now have been listed for trial in April or May. But the court will hear only the defendant’s plea on April 28, until when the case has again been adjourned.

Last November, the Government proposed to reform legal aid in England and Wales in an attempt to reduce the Ministry of Justice’s budget by 23%.

Concerns were raised at the time by the Judge’s Council over a potential increase in litigants being denied publicly funded representation.

Since the introduction of Crown Court Means Testing last summer, people who can afford to have been asked to pay towards their defence

A Legal Services Commission spokesperson said: “Crown Court Means Testing has been introduced to ensure people convicted of a crime contribute to their defence costs, where they have the means to do so. This aims to save the taxpayer around �50m each year.”

“At the initial stage, the system only requires information about the defendant’s financial circumstances. As no evidence is required initially, it is not possible to conduct a means assessment without a full and complete declaration. Incomplete applications can, in some cases, lead to delays.”

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