Court staff should be pilloried – not the holidaying judge – after unfortunate aborting of a rape trial

Don’t believe everything the newspapers tell you in their increasingly desperate efforts to lure you into reading a story.

A good example pops up in the Weekend Herald: Holiday for judge aborts rape trial.

Bugger me, Alf thought. Have the wheels of justice ground to a halt in a rape case because the judge flitted off for a vacation?

Alf’s sense that the judge had caused some sort of judicial mayhem was heightened by the Herald’s introductory paragraph:

A rape complainant will be forced to give evidence twice after the trial of her alleged attacker was aborted because the judge went on an overseas holiday.

Good grief. Not only will the unfortunate complainant have to go through the ordeal of testifying and being cross-examined all over again.

Taxpayers will have to pay for a second trial.

The bloody judge should have stalled her holiday plans, surely.

But that’s not exactly why the trial was aborted, as you will find if you read on.

Essentially, it seems, it was aborted because court staff botched the court schedule and gave a longish trial to a judge who had already booked her holiday.

Mind you, the Herald reporter has failed to confirm this. Rather, it is something he understands happened.

There was a way around having to abort the trial. But defence counsel – who presumably is stretching proceedings with cross-examination and what-have-you – couldn’t carry on the trial if it ran into a second week.

He objected to the idea of another judge taking over the case.

Dunno why he didn’t get a mention in the headline along with the judge.

The complainant is a 50-year-old woman who took the witness stand in the Auckland District Court on Monday for what was originally set down as a four-day trial.

She was part-way through giving evidence when the trial was aborted as it became clear the case would not finish before Judge Philippa Cunningham flew to Australia yesterday for a pre-booked holiday.

Judge Cunningham raised the possibility of the jury trial continuing under a different judge on the Tuesday afternoon. That option was opposed by the defence lawyer, who was unavailable if the case went over into a second week, so the trial was aborted.

So why did the judge go on holiday in the middle of a trial?

It is understood that a court scheduling error was to blame as Judge Cunningham should not have been allocated a four-day trial when she was due to go overseas the day after it had been expected to finish.

The consequences are plain enough.

The complainant – who allegedly suffered multiple rapes, assaults and sexual violation at the hands of her husband in late 2007 – will now have to wait until July to give evidence again.

Louise Nicholas, who works as a survivor advocate for Rape Prevention Education, said the complainant would be “beside herself” at the thought of giving evidence a second time.

“She’s already been on the stand and reliving the trauma that she’s been through. Now she has to come back and do it again,” said Mrs Nicholas. “It’s just unbelievable.”

Mrs Nicholas is bang on when she says the judge should never have been allocated a four-day trial if she was due to go overseas the following day.

“Trials often run over time. The courage it’s taken for that woman to go through this process is huge,” said Mrs Nicholas. “To have the case and her life delayed for another few months is absolutely abhorrent. This is so typical of our justice system.”

But having to give evidence and be grilled by defence counsel all over again isn’t the only consequence.

The delay is a waste of jurors’ and police time and will cost thousands of taxpayer dollars in court costs and legal fees for the Crown and defence lawyers.

Chief District Court Judge Russell Johnson is on the case, administratively speaking. He said he was concerned the trial was aborted because it couldn’t conclude within the scheduled period.

In a statement to the Weekend Herald, he said he will make inquiries to see if the delay could have been avoided.

It is obvious to Alf it could have been avoided.

Detective Sergeant Andy King, head of the Auckland police adult sex assault squad, said the delay was difficult for the complainant

…as she would have to go through the “trauma” of giving evidence again. He also said the delay was difficult for the accused, as his life was in limbo until the trial was over.

Defence barrister Mark Ryan and Crown prosecutor Emma Finlayson-Davis declined to comment.

Alf is not so reticent. Whoever scheduled the trial should be pilloried for a week, tarred and feathered, if not fired.

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