AG’s chambers under fire again

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THE Attorney General’s Chambers has come in for criticism again in the courts – this time over the apparent veto over summary trial.

In a judgment, former Deputy High Bailiff Alastair Montgomerie said it was ‘hardly surprising’ there had been growing concerns from defence advocates about the ‘quality and consistency’ of decisions on mode of trial.

And he heavily criticised director of prosecutions Stuart Neale for a delay in a case being heard.

He said: ‘I regret that this is yet one more case – in what is now a long line of cases – where the failure by the Attorney General’s chambers to adhere to a court order has resulted not only in causing considerable inconvenience but also in wasting substantial time and public money.’

Up until June 2009, prosecutions in the summary courts were usually conducted by police. Since then the Attorney General has taken all criminal proceedings instigated on behalf of the police.

But Mr Montgomerie heard there were growing concerns among defence advocates about cases being prevented from being tried summarily rather than in the higher court.

The mode of trial had previously been a matter for the court to decide but the Attorney General’s chambers had been using provision contained in the 2001 Criminal Justice Act to veto summary trial and ensure the case was heard in the Court of General Gaol Delivery instead.

This was challenged by advocates representing two defendants, Liam Douglas Bowley and Jacob Baruch Raby, charged with assault occasioning actual bodily.

The defence argued that the case was suitable for summary trial but the prosecution did not consent to this.

In their challenge, they argued this would be incompatible with the defendants’ right both to ‘a fair trial’ and one ‘within a reasonable time’ under their Human Rights.

But in his judgment, the Deputy High Bailiff said the real issue was whether Tynwald had intended to give the Attorney General the power to prevent ‘triable either way’ offences from being heard summarily.

He said he found it ‘highly significant’ that a fundamental change in the statutory procedure that effectively gave the Attorney General the power to veto summary trial had not been ‘the subject of any discussion or debate in Tynwald’.

He ruled that this had not been Tynwald’s intention and it had been instead an ‘oversight’.

Mr Neale indicated that there was no policy or guidelines on modes of trial, simply that they were subject to discussions within chambers.

The Deputy High Bailiff noted: ‘In these circumstances, it is perhaps hardly surprising that there have been growing concerns from defence advocates as to the quality and consistency of such decisions.’

Turning to a delay in hearing the application, Mr Neale was criticised for failing to have ‘his skeleton argument’ ready in time as he had to deal with an urgent matter. The prosecutor had given an apology which had been accepted. But the Deputy High Bailiff said he regretted that this was yet one more case in a long line of cases where a failure by the Attorney General’s had caused further adjournment.

Questions were raised in Tynwald early this year about a legal judgment in which director of prosecutions Mr Neale was ordered to pay £10,000 for wasting costs in a criminal case.

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