HHJ Radford is resident judge at Snaresbrook Crown Court. He spoke to Malcolm Duxbury.
Q: Have you been having any difficulties with interpreters recently?
A: Yes, most certainly. In this building, we have been badly affected by the change to one contractor and I?ve ensured that the difficulties have been communicated to the senior presiding judge and to the management of the courts and tribunals service.
Indeed, I have personally spoken about them to Lord Justice Goldring.
The change was piloted, I understand, on one circuit, the Northern circuit, and it was thought that the change would not be problematical but they didn?t sufficiently have in mind the whole country. It was introduced without the full board approval of Her Majesty?s Courts and Tribunals Service, including the judicial representatives. I believe the contract is now being monitored on a weekly basis.
Q: How highly do you rate the quality of the advocates who come before you? Would you like to be a judge taking part in QASA assessments during hearings?
A: In general terms, advocates vary from the very good to the poor. This is across both sides of the profession, solicitors and barristers, employed and independent.
Judicial evaluation has been agreed between the professions and the monitoring group and I think the advisory group under Lord Justice Thomas. I don?t know that the Council for Circuit Judges has indicated any collective view so that remains outstanding. The way in which the scheme is now going to be structured, with categories 3 and 4 essentially those that are going to be monitored in the Crown Court and affecting all advocates, may mean that some of the concerns that some circuit judges had may be ameliorated. Certainly, with the CPS grading exercise, one of the concerns we had was that the employed advocates for the CPS were not being assessed but only the self-employed, and we believed it should be a level playing field.
I hope, if the forms are not too onerous, that, given that this is something the regulators require to be done, colleagues will agree to take part. I wouldn?t say that I?m enthusiastic about another thing to do but I recognise that, obviously, we are the consumers of advocacy in the Crown Court - the jury are the principal consumers but we also are - and it?s in our interests to maintain and indeed improve standards and, if we can find some fair and objective basis for doing that which involves our participation, we should co-operate; but I can?t guarantee that all my colleagues on the circuit bench would share that view.
Q: Does Snaresbrook have the largest number of courts under the care of one resident judge? What are the problems you encounter?
A: There?s always been an argument between Liverpool and Snaresbrook as to which is the largest court. Liverpool may have more Crown Court rooms than we do but, if you were to ask how many, over the year, were occupied with work, I think you would find there were more in Snaresbrook: we normally have 19 courts, occasionally 20.
We certainly have problems with the fabric and maintenance of the building, which began life as an orphanage and a school. And the way in which theplace is set out in terms of new technology - videolink, remote rooms for witnesses - has had to be done in a building which was not purpose-built. But we?re blessed with being in pleasant surroundings, with the lake and all the rest of it.
There are rumours of ghosts wandering the corridors on dark afternoons, of boys who met unhappy deaths when they were boarders here in the nineteenth century; but I think these are stories told to frighten new ushers.
Q: What problems may arise when the courts work in a paper-free environment?
A: It?s a question of whether it happens. I certainly think that getting to that point is going to be problematical because I?m not sure that we?ll be able to operate without paper unless everybody has the necessary equipment on both sides of the court and on the bench. But, even so, I wonder what will happen to the papers that are not in the CPS core bundle.
It will be a burden to the courts service to have to print out papers which previously had been supplied by the CPS. Given the financial situation and the staff situation, I don?t welcome that.
Q: What are your views on schemes to reduce cracked and ineffective trials?
A: I think the guilty plea scheme may help. I?ve certainly been impressed with the apparent results from other courts, including Liverpool and Birmingham. I?m not in any sense averse to seeing how far we can improve matters in relation to London.
What we want to eliminate is delay and misunderstanding. Sometimes people don?t plead guilty because they may have a misapprehension as to what that involves in terms of sentence and, if that mystery can be dissipated, consistent with people making a free choice as to what they wish to do, that would help. And we don?t want witnesses having to come unnecessarily to court.
Obviously in terms of early guilty pleas, the focus has mainly been on the extent of the plea credit which can be obtained and eliminating the misunderstanding about that. There is some debate as to how the "first reasonable opportunity? is understood. I would welcome anything from the Court of Appeal to clarify that. Some are saying it?s when being interviewed at the police station; others are saying it can?t be before the charges are named. How on earth can you indicate guilt in court terms when you are not yet faced with the charge that is being brought to court? There is the distinction between the credit you should get because you are not wasting resources and the time of the court, if you plead guilty at the first reasonable opportunity, and the second, an element of mitigation, not part of the sentencing council guidance, which is if there is confession, contrition and remorse shown at an early stage.
Q: Do you think that too many minor cases are being heard in the Crown Court?
A: Sometimes, yes, I think people may elect trial and then they plead guilty in the Crown Court when they could have pleaded guilty in the lower court. I don?t think that there?s any prospect of the right to elect trial for either-way offences being restricted by any legislation. The Coalition Agreement included support for trial by jury and I have every reason to believe there will be no legislation which will change the right to elect. I say that with considerable confidence.
But there will be consideration about the many cases which come to the Crown Court when the magistrates decline jurisdiction. There is concern when people are found guilty or plead guilty and the sentence passed by the Crown Court is within the magistrates? sentencing powers. The magistrates could be restricted in declining jurisdiction if the value of the property taken was less than a certain amount - but reserving the defendant?s right nevertheless to say that he wants the case to go to the Crown Court to be tried on indictment. That I think may be a live proposition.
Q: As chair of the Olympics working group, do you think there has been enough planning for the effect of the Olympics on the work of the courts?
A: No-one quite knows what, in criminal justice terms, we may be faced with. We do know that there will be considerable disruption in London to normal transport services and in terms of the police and other emergency services, which has led to the conclusion that the Crown Courts and magistrates? courts most affected will have a much reduced number of courts. Seeing as the Crown Court has an allocated number of sitting days for the year, we shall make up for that later.
In the four and a half years I?ve been involved in this, I have been anxious to avoid a legacy of serious cases connected with the Olympics that might last a very long time after the games were over. That would besmirch the legacy of the games and might affect the perception of this country?s ability to deal with all aspects of a competition of this sort. This is why we have the "Olympics offence? definition and also the commitment to give such cases priority and the realisation that, because such cases have no particular local community connection in London, they can be tried in some other place in England and Wales.
Q: What is your career history?
A: I read law at Cambridge, came to the bar, with a mixture of work which, in the 1970s, was very broad.
I did civil work of a common law kind and criminal work all the way through my practice - which is now very difficult to do. I did a good deal of crime, prosecuting and defending. Then I became an assistant recorder and recorder and now I?ve done almost 16 years, believe it or not, as a circuit judge and ten years as resident judge.
I also sit in the Court of Appeal which is clearly completely different from sitting with a jury. It is very interesting reading how other judges have sum med up a case or how they?ve sentenced people in different parts of England and Wales. And it involves discussions with three judges: there are no dissenting judgments in the criminal division so there has to be give and take at times. It?s hard work, a lot of reading. I?ve learned a lot from it. I hope that what the Crown Court judiciary?s involvement in the Court of Appeal brings first grandson due at the beginning of June. I do follow professional football very closely. I support Manchester City. I don?t get to see many games. I watch a lot on the TV, avidly read everything and talk about it ? probably too much.