Published: 06:00, 14 April 2021
| Updated: 14:14, 15 April 2021
A judge is demanding urgent answers from Kent police after a case involving an alleged child sex attack victim suffered an astonishing three-year delay.
Judge Simon James unleashed the stinging attack after it emerged the teenager is yet to see the case brought before the courts, years after contacting police.
Canterbury Crown Court’s most senior judge hit out at Kent police chiefs yesterday after seeing a letter reportedly pointing the finger at courts and staff for delays. It was not made clear in court which letter the judge was referring to.
He told prosecutor Peter Forbes the force had formed its own narrative about faults in the justice system, adding: “It is not a narrative I’m going to allow to be populated.”
He went on: “A complaint made by a 14-year-old - it is unacceptable that whatever the issues might be for the case to only come for a first hearing at the crown court three years later.
“And I’m afraid there is going to have to be a proper explanation as to why that delay took place.
“It is wholly unacceptable that there has been a three-year delay and it is not a narrative I’m going to allow to be populated, given what seems to me an inexplicable delay.
“The delay is not the fault of the court but the fault of elsewhere - it’s inexplicable, unfair and it isn’t acceptable.”
When Mr Forbes said he will pass on the message to officers the judge added he would not accept “the dog ate my homework” excuses.
In response, Kent Police said a review of the case is underway to establish the full circumstances.
Assistant Chief Constable Simon Wilson said: "On Saturday 14 July 2018 Kent Police received a report that sexual offences had been committed against a child.
"Immediate actions were taken to safeguard the victim and a suspect was arrested the same day. He was released whilst a full and thorough investigation took place, including a review of any forensic opportunities, the taking of witness statements and the gathering of other evidence.
"The primary focus of any investigation is to provide safeguarding for victims based on their individual requirements with sensitivity and compassion..."
"Charges were authorised against the suspect in December 2020 and we await the outcome of the court case whilst continuing to support the victim.
"We understand concerns have been raised regarding the time it took for this matter to come to court, and are currently reviewing the case in order to establish the full circumstances.
"The primary focus of any investigation is to provide safeguarding for victims based on their individual requirements with sensitivity and compassion, whilst our officers do everything in their power to investigate offences quickly and to the highest possible standard.
"Kent Police enjoys a close working relationship with the Crown Prosecution Service and HM Courts and Tribunals Service and we regularly meet to discuss ways to improve the service we provide both individually and collectively, with the shared objective of securing justice for victims.
"These efforts have never been more important than in recent times against the backdrop of a global pandemic which has had an additional impact on us all."
The criticism comes after the four criminal justice chief inspectors’ recent report concluded the greatest risk to criminal justice comes from the “unprecedented and very serious” backlogs in courts.
But Caroline Goodwin QC, former chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said earlier this year victims, witnesses, and defendants faced delays because of a “lethal cocktail” of release under investigation (RUI), cuts to court sitting days, and courthouses being closed altogether.
The backlog of cases in crown courts in England and Wales is thought to be more than 50,000.
By the end of May last year, there were more than 40,500 unheard cases waiting to be dealt with.
That was a rise from 37,434 on December 31, according to figures released by the CBA.
Priority is given to the hundreds remanded to prisons where some are locked up for up to 23 and-a-half hours each day.
Sensitive sex trials involving young and vulnerable witnesses are also prioritised.
Criminals are given reduced sentences when they can show a judge their case has been “unduly delayed” and they are not to blame.
The Court of Appeal said in 2018 that “delay may count as a mitigating factor”, with article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights ensuring that justice is carried out in a reasonable timescale.