Court listings gaffe creates Customs cocaine trial chaos

Blunders by court listings officers have been blamed for one of the largest existing Customs & Excise trials being delayed by an incredible eight months.

The defendants, who are charged with the illegal importation of 699 kilos of cocaine, have been imprisoned awaiting trial for hundreds of days beyond the normal 164-day custody time limit.

The case, which has also discredited the Government’s new Very High Cost Criminal Cases (VHCCC) Scheme after two instructed barristers dropped out, has been shifted from courts in Southampton to London, then back to Southampton. It is now due to be heard in Bristol.

The original trial at Southampton Crown Court last October never got off the ground. Judge Boggis QC decided Southampton was an impractical trial location because it lacked the facilities and required the prisoners to make a six-hour journey every day from Belmarsh prison in London to the court.

As a result, it was referred to Snaresbrook Crown Court in London, where it immediately hit problems. A barrister for one defendant dropped out because he would only the handle the case if it was heard in Winchester, Portsmouth or Southampton. A replacement also dropped out, claiming he had insufficient time to read the papers.
Before the introduction of the VHCCC scheme, counsel would not have been permitted to drop out of cases.

The case was then referred back to Southampton, where Judge Boggis again refused to hear it and sent it on to Bristol Crown Court.

A Customs & Excise spokesman claimed that “delays like this are completely normal”.