June 19 2013 Latest news:
By Star Reporter
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
AN MP has raised concerns after a woman who was allegedly assaulted by her boyfriend was denied the opportunity to see him stand trial after he walked free from court due to a Crown Prosecution Service mistake.
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said he would raise the case with the Lord Chancellor as an example of why the CPS needs to get its act in order.
“Someone has been denied the trial they had expected,” he said. “First of all this should be a very strong lesson for the CPS that it has got to get its administration in order.
“Not only is its lack of organisation expensive, it is potentially a denial of justice to the people it is supposed to serve. There is also something for the magistrates court to think about in all of this and I will watch with interest to see the results of any judicial review and guidance a higher court may give.”
Ben Gummer, MP, spoke out after Harriet Atkinson, 22, was wrongly told to attend court in the afternoon for the trial of fitness trainer Lewis Rookyard who denied a charge of assault by beating.
But unbeknown to her, the trial where she was due to give evidence had been fixed to start in the morning at South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court in Ipswich.
Officials realised she had been given the wrong time when she did not appear at 10am and a police car was sent to pick her up.
The prosecutor applied for the case to be postponed for 30 minutes, pointing out that Miss Atkinson was on her way and was in no way to blame. But magistrates rejected the application and dismissed the case due to her non-attendance.
They decided there might not be enough time to complete the trial on the day if they waited for her and it would be unfair on Mr Rookyard, 22, to wait for a new date.
The CPS has apologised for the error and is considering seeking a Judicial Review to try and get the High Court to rule that the magistrates acted incorrectly.
The unusual move could set a new legal precedent for future cases if it goes ahead, although the magistrates’ decision in Miss Atkinson’s case cannot be overturned.
Miss Atkinson, who works in the fashion industry, said: “It was the fault of the CPS that I was given the wrong time for the trial to start – but it seems to be just a case of human error which I can understand.
“What I am really angry about is that the magistrates threw the case out even when they were told that I was not at fault for being given the wrong time and I was on my way.
“The authorities are constantly saying that they take allegations of domestic violence seriously and I knew that I had to do the right thing by going to the police.”
Miss Atkinson claimed she was left with a black eye, a cut to her face and bruises to her arms and chest on New Year’s Day while she was at Mr Rookyard’s family home in Ipswich.
Mr Rookyard was arrested on January 4. After being charged and pleading not guilty, his trial date was initially fixed for April 30.
But four days before the date, he was granted an adjournment as he needed more time to prepare his case. The estimated length of the trial was also extended from three hours to five hours.
Miss Atkinson was told in a call and an e-mail from a Witness Care assistant to attend court at 1.45pm on September 5, in time for a 2.15pm start. Other prosecution witnesses including the police officer in the case were told to attend at the same wrong time.
Miss Atkinson said: “I first realised something was wrong when I got a call from my dad at 10.10am on the day of the trial, saying a man from Witness Care had rung to ask where I was as I was supposed to be in court. We had to rush around and the police came round to pick me up along with my mum and my sister. We were only a ten minute drive away and we met our dad at court just before 11am.
“But when we got into the building we were told that the case had been dismissed. I was left in a complete mess and in tears.
“It has completely destroyed my faith in the British justice system.”
Grace Ononiwu, the chief crown prosecutor for the East of England Crown Prosecution Service, described it as “a very serious matter”.
She said: “The prosecutor was made aware that witnesses had been warned for 2.15pm rather than 10am and applied to adjourn the case to later in the morning to give them an opportunity to attend. This application was refused by the court and therefore the case could not proceed any further.”
A CPS spokeswoman added: “We are looking into whether a Judicial Review of the case at the High Court is appropriate and are seeking counsel’s view on the matter.
“The High Court cannot overturn the decision of the magistrates, but it can rule on whether the correct procedures were followed. It is certainly an unusual situation.”
Miss Atkinson and her father David were sent letters from Deputy Justices clerk David Carson who was the legal adviser in the case. He told them that the magistrates had taken note of case law where cases had been dismissed due to the non-attendance of witnesses.
The clerk also said the magistrates had taken into account the nature of the offence, the earlier adjournment and the likely further delay caused by an adjournment.
Mr Carson said: “The court’s procedures did not fall down. The current trial date and time was notified to the parties who were also present when it was fixed.”
Former Conservative councillor Michelle Bevan-Margetts, the presiding magistrate in the case, refused to comment.
Mr Rookyard refused to comment.