Advocates will be accustomed with the ever-repeated phrase – "summary justice should be speedy justice" in the lower courts. Those who practice in such courts may be of the view that the phrase is sometimes uttered as a means of justifying rushed rulings. What does the decision in Barnaby v. DPP [2015] EWHC 232 (Admin), mean for speedy justice?

The case involved an application by the Crown, to adduce hearsay evidence under the principles of res gestae (s.118 (1)(4), CJA 2003). The trial concerned the all too familiar allegation of domestic violence and the reluctant complainant.

The Crown applied to adduce evidence of the victim's 999 calls, reporting that she had been strangled. The court found that the victim had been emotionally overpowered by virtue of her continued expression of emotion throughout various telephone calls to the authorities. Further supporting evidence came from the police officers who noted visible injury marks to her neck, and were keen to report on her agitated demeanour.

The victim in Barnaby refused to sign a statement, expressing her fear that if she was seen to support charges, the defendant may subject her to further attacks. However, interestingly, she attended court on the first day of trial. An occurrence that is not common in such cases.

During her initial complaint to officers, she alleged that the defendant had left the house with drugs. She went on to say that he had previously assaulted her and had gone to prison for a number of years as a result. When the defendant was located, no drugs were recovered. Neither had he previously been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for an assault on the victim.

How does the court's admission of such evidence in Barnaby, sit with the principle that "summary justice should be speedy justice"? All too well, I fear. The suggested safeguard is section 78 (PACE 1984). Worryingly, the defence in Barnaby did not take this course, despite available arguments in relation to the victim's impeachable character and her misleading assertions. Hopefully, speed was not to blame for the lack of full submissions.

The hearsay evidence in Barnaby was to be dealt with at an earlier preliminary hearing, to provide a safeguard that any decision was not made by the trial bench. In practice however, we have experienced prosecutors making such applications on the day of trial. The impact of this is reduced in the Crown court, where the jury decides on the facts and legal applications are the remit of the trial Judge. Magistrates' courts' of course lack this protection. Perhaps a further reason why applications in the lower courts should be carefully and thoroughly considered. Certainly not hampered by the doctrine of "speedy justice".  

Cases concerning allegations of domestic violence are often thwarted by delays and applications to adjourn. A way of meeting the criteria of speedy justice is perhaps achieved by proceeding with victimless prosecutions. However, what must be important, is that advocates do not feel rushed through any submissions in opposition to that application. Regardless of how "speedy" (or not) those submissions are, proper time should be spent considering the test for admissibility as set out in Regina v Andrews [1987] AC 281.

No definition of justice concerns speed. Each and every advocate endeavours to have effective trials dealt with promptly. The pressure on a prosecutor to get through a busy morning trial list should not be underestimated. In those circumstances Magistrates' must be robust enough to demonstrate to both defendants and victims of crime, that justice is seen to be done by giving full and reasoned decisions and wholly applying the relevant law. In those circumstances, proper time should be awarded and no one should be impeded by the theme of speedy summary justice.