Stipendiary Magistrate Charles Pitto discharged a defendant after “unacceptable” delays meant the man’s lawyer had not been served the docket of evidence, even though the case stretched back nearly a year and was set to go to trial yesterday.
As well as delays with the docket, defence barrister Nicholas Gomez had not been informed that alongside charges of dangerous driving and transporting a commercial quantity of tobacco, a new charge relating to the attempted exportation of 100,000 cigarettes had been lodged against his client.
The case will once again put the focus on persistent delays in the preparation of police evidence files for cases before the courts. It comes just three weeks after prosecutors withdrew a case against a juvenile following 18 months of delays.
In flagging the issue before the court yesterday, Mr Gomez said his client had been arrested over the “simple tobacco matter” in May last year.
The man was subsequently charged in August and court appearances followed in September, December and February, with the trial due to take place yesterday.
Mr Gomez said the court deserved an explanation as to the reason for the delay in producing the evidence and therefore in progressing the case.
Crown Counsel James Lennane explained that he had been handed the docket on his way into court.
He described the situation as “not acceptable”, adding that this “was not fair on anybody”.
The charges followed an incident on May 17, 2017 when police were forced into a high-speed chase with a vehicle loaded with tobacco.
The suspect vehicle allegedly reached speeds of 90kph and at its end-point certain persons were waiting to unload the tobacco.
Mr Gomez’ client denied being the driver of the vehicle but did admit that he had been part of the group waiting at the end-point in the area of Emmerson’s Place to unload the tobacco.
Mr Gomez had requested CCTV of the chase in September of last year but was only informed by prosecutors this week that there was none.
Mr Pitto indicated that there is power, albeit one which is rarely used, which could be exercised in this case.
He therefore ordered that the man be discharged from all charges.
The police would have the option of re-arresting the man but this could spring-up abuse of process arguments from defence counsel, Mr Pitto said.