Police no-show threat to fair trial, lawyer says

The Police Prosecution Service has been challenged to improve its resources in the busy Queenstown District Court after a failed pitch to dismiss an assault case.

There was no police prosecutor in court when Alexander James Hibbert appeared for what should have been a priority trial yesterday.

Hibbert previously appeared in December, when his trial date was set for February 10. His case was yesterday further adjourned to February 18.

His lawyer, Liam Collins, rounded on the prosecution’s failure to attend as a further block to his client’s long awaited date with justice.

It breached his client’s right to a timely hearing and it was the direct result of the prosecution service’s failure to ensure Queenstown was adequately staffed, he said.

Several other defendants across several other cases were in the same position: their access to justice was being unreasonably delayed, he said.

He moved to have the case dismissed in what he said should be a message to the police prosecution service to look more closely at Queenstown.

Mr Collins understood there was enough work in Queenstown for at least one and a-half prosecutors, but that the service refused to provide the staff the prosecutor needed to run his office.

If the sergeant could not fulfil his obligations, then that was a problem to be tackled by the Police Prosecution Service, he said.

Asking when his client would get ‘‘his finality’’, Mr Collins warned continued no-shows and callovers would undermine people’s confidence in the justice system.

It simply could not be the case that people in Queenstown had the right to no undue delays to a lesser extent than people in Christchurch or Auckland, he said.

Judge John Brandts-Giesen said the police prosecutor’s wife had taken ill and was in hospital, so it as not unreasonable for him to be by her bedside.

He heard what Mr Collins had to say, but said it would be unfair to dismiss the charge in the absence of the police prosecutor.

It was an issue for the Police Prosecution Service, and he wanted the police to provide a fully briefed prosecutor for the next appearance.

The court was concerned there was no backup prosecutor available for Queenstown, a busy court, he said.

Mr Collins said he wanted to wrap up his practice next week and that such delays affected him and his clients.

A series of changes meant he had four ‘‘priority’’ cases to defend on the proposed, new hearing date. Such prosecution-prompted delays avalanche to affect the rights of other clients.

Judge Brandts-Giesen suggested an alternative might be that another lawyer be briefed and be able to step in.