• Mon. May 20th, 2024

Oxford ‘rape’ trial adjourned until April as no barrister can be found to prosecute

Byoxfordnewspaper

Aug 24, 2022

A rape trial was adjourned for eight months – after no prosecutor could be found to start the trial.

Oxford Crown Court heard that clerks at the original prosecutor’s chambers had emailed 120 other barristers’ sets and rang 50 but were unable to find another lawyer to step-in at the last minute.

Judge Maria Lamb, who described it as a ‘very sad state of affairs’, adjourned the week-long trial until next April. By then, the rape allegation will be around three years old.

The difficulties came to light as barristers voted to go on an all-out strike from the start of September, refusing to attend court for Legal Aid-funded cases or take new instructions in cases where their would-be client did not have the money to pay privately.

Members of the Criminal Bar Association have been taking part in strike action since June. More than 2,200 members of the association voted in its latest ballot, with almost 80 per cent opting to ‘escalate’ the industrial action.

The CBA wants the government to raise the criminal Legal Aid rates by 25 per cent, saying a quarter of specialist criminal barristers had left the profession in the past five years.

The government has offered 15 per cent, the minimum figure recommended in an independent review published last year.

Although the all-out strike officially begins on September 5, as next week is a scheduled ‘week of action’ the indefinite walk-out will in effect begin from next Tuesday.

On Monday, CBA vice chairman Kirsty Brimelow QC told BBC Breakfast: “The remedy is for an injection of money into the backlog of cases which currently stands at 60,000 cases, that barristers are working on that will cost the government only £1.1m per month.”

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday accused the striking barristers of holding justice to ‘ransom’.

Earlier this week, the crown court heard that the barrister originally instructed to prosecute Judge Lamb's rape trial had withdrawn after realising he had a pre-booked holiday.

Clerks at the lawyer’s chambers realised late last week that their barrister’s leave had left them short of a prosecutor.

Judge Lamb was told that the clerks had emailed 120 other barristers’ chambers asking if they had qualified counsel able to take on the case. The clerks picked up the phone and rang-round 50 sets.

“It is a very sad state of affairs,” Judge Lamb said after learning of the difficulties faced.

Only a select number of barristers are able to prosecute serious sexual offences like rape. The Crown Prosecution Service requires would-be prosecutors to go through a selection process and further training before they can take on such cases.

The court heard that a prosecutor might be available to begin the trial on Tuesday, although that meant the case could go into a second week.

However, as the defence advocate was unavailable next week, the judge adjourned the trial until next April – the first free period the court had to deal with the week-long case.

Last December, the Recorder of Oxford Judge Ian Pringle QC painted a ‘desperate’ picture of the criminal justice system when he heard that, despite two days of trying, it had been impossible to find a barrister to prosecute a controlling behaviour trial.

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward