There can be no doubt that the CPS treat racially aggravated offending very seriously indeed. That has sometimes led me to find myself in trials that I can’t believe have come to Court, not because they’re not serious, but because there’s very little evidence. But the CPS guidance makes it almost always in the public interest to prosecute in such cases.
And, you can see why. Racism is in any form unacceptable. Racism does not have a place in 21st century Britain.
But how do you feel about paying for the prosecution of John Terry.
Let me do something which feels unusual, let me try and put this neutrally:
The everyday trial
Section 5 of the public order act is one of the most simple offences in our criminal law. In fact, it can be dealt with by fixed penalty notice.
The racially aggravated version of the offence cannot be dealt with by fixed penalty notice but remains an offence which:
a) Can only be tried in the magistrates’ court.
b) Can only result in the accused being fined.
Even if you were on a low income you would not be guaranteed legal aid to defend the charge as it not considered to be sufficiently serious in all cases to justify legal aid.
To prosecute this charge you would be prosecuted by either a CPS prosecutor employed directly by government, or by the lowest level of barrister, a Grade 1 prosecuting barrister.
To give you an idea of fees, the defending barrister on legal aid would receive between £75 and £150 for the half-day trial. The prosecution barrister generally is on between £150 to £250 for a day for the CPS. So, again, between about £75 to £125 for that half day trial.
The average trial of this type would be heard by 2 or 3 magistrates (who receive their bus fare and a chocolate biscuit and weak tea) and would probably take half a day of a Magistrates’ Court time.
The Court house itself would be guarded by the contracted security guards.
The celebrity trial
John Terry is being tried in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court. This is the Court where some of the most high profile cases in the country are heard. It is the extradition court, it deals with the cases of public protest and disorder in the capital and deals with the most humble shoplifting from Oxford Street.
The Court has a number of resident, salaried District Judges including the Deputy Senior District Judge and the Senior District Judge.
The John Terry trial is being heard, we are told for five days, by the Senior District Judge, the Chief Magistrate of England and Wales.
He is being prosecuted by Duncan Penny, Duncan Penny has been a barrister for 20 years, he is from the top prosecution set in the country. A set of chambers which advise MI5 / MI6 on policing terrorism.
His fee for the trial will reflect his expertise and his 20 years experience. This is being paid for by the tax payer.
Terry is being defended by George Carter-Stephenson QC, he is a barrister with over 30 years experience and has the magic two letters after his name. Of course, Terry is paying for that expertise.
I add, if Terry is acquitted then the tax payer will be liable to pay for those fees, although probably not in full, they will be required to pay a signficant part.
The Terry trial has required the deployment of a large police presence.
The cost, in lawyers, court and policing is huge compared to the everyday trial.
If you had the choice? Do you think it’s worth the cost? This is when less and less people receive legal aid, courts are closing, there are less bobbies on the beat, cautions are preferred to prosecutions in a number of cases.
Or, is it worth the money? Is it worth showing all society that footballers are not above the law, that racism will be prosecuted doggedly and that the CPS will deploy the resources necessary to fight this ill.
As I say, I’ve tried to keep this neutral, I’d love to know what you decide.