Court backlogs at a time of pandemic

Court backlogs are adding to the misery of pandemic and adding to uncertainty and distress.

Statue of Lady Justice


Today was due to be the sentencing of the driver who killed my daughter. It has been a long time coming. We were first due to have it on 23rd March just before lockdown, but the defence lawyers didn’t turn up, basically as a ploy to delay the sentencing for psychological tests. The next date was 5th May – that was delayed because Covid-19 meant the psychological tests could not be done. Then it was 29th June, then June 30th. We were told on the afternoon of June 29th that it might be late July, possibly late August because of the Covid-19 backlog and safety measures in the courts.

Each time we have geared ourselves up to go and had to consider changing Covid-19 travel issues. Each time I have had to redraft the impact statement I am due to read out. Each time my daughter’s boyfriend has prepared himself to relive that night. There must be so many other people in this situation. I rang the coroner’s office when the inquest was due to open and they said the backlog could mean the case is not heard for months, or even years. In a strange way, that is a comfort because I have no desire to move on or whatever it is you are supposed to do. Everything still feels completely unreal and I just imagine in part that my daughter is away at university and that this reality is not the true one – something she would have been interested in debating given her interest in philosophy.

Someone who has been through the same thing told me an important and probably obvious thing, but it has helped me – that you continue to be a mother to a child even when they are not there. You continue to look after them, whether it is through their friends or their siblings or making statements about them in court or whatever it might be. I found it very painful at first when people asked me how many children I have. I said three initially, but I felt awful about it because I have four. I always have four. So now I say so and I include my daughter on birthday cards and presents because she is always part of our family. It’s not denial. It’s some attempt at coping and keeping her with us.

The whole of the last months, particularly the court case, appears to be an exercise in not taking responsibility, from the defendant through to the Mail Online which published CCTV footage of the hit and run incident with an EXCLUSIVE headline, as if it was entertainment – for the clicks. I submitted a complaint about this. I thought it was straightforward. The footage was clickbait; there was nothing journalistic about it. Surely it was – or should be – against the code of conduct, an invasion of privacy?

Members of my family saw the footage as it downloaded automatically on mobiles when you clicked on the accompanying news story. My kids could have seen it. Apparently it might not be straightforward. It all seems to centre on some tickbox issue of whether the Mail said they would give the police one hour to inform us it was going up. We weren’t informed, but it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. What would we have done in an hour on the morning after the police knocked on our door to tell us she was dead, when we were waiting for each of our kids to wake up to tell them the news?

The Mail took the video down a day or two later, after my brother complained. I want them to admit they shouldn’t have done it, not to feel somehow virtuous that they took it down. If not, they will do it to others [they have done it before] and the vast majority of people who are grieving will not want to go through the, frankly, extremely distressing and drawn-out process of complaining.

Newspapers police themselves and there is very little consideration for members of the public. I knew that, but living it is another matter. When I told them how distressing the process was, IPSO – the body that considers complaints – asked me if I wanted to drop the case. Of course not. I am a journalist. It matters to me that journalism is better than this. What’s more, I will look out for my daughter until my dying day.

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