Yesterday the jury weren’t present as it was taken up with legal submissions, and first thing this morning HHJ Smith made a ruling in relation to those submissions.
The jury were brought into court shortly after 11:30am today. HHJ Smith thanked them for their patience and understanding, and explained that it is not always easy to say with precision how long things will take, and that their estimates hadn’t been as precise as they’d have liked. He then sought to reassure the jury “if you need such reassurance”, that everybody involved with the case, all counsel and himself had been “working really hard over the last few days in your absence”.
He explained to the jury that at the end of the prosecution case it is his duty to review a case, and that is what has been going on over the last few days. He told them that there is law to consider and that this is not necessarily a straight forward case, and he said that was some of the work that had been going on.
He then told the jury:
These defendants are in your charge, you’ll remember I said at the outset, you were responsible for returning the verdicts, you and you alone.
And so I just need your help at this stage because having listened with care to the submissions which were made to me, having conducted a careful review of the law, I have come to the conclusion one of the counts in the indictment you’re considering ought to be effectively withdrawn at this stage, so there’s no further consideration of it.
He explained that he could not return a not guilty verdict himself in respect of the count as a matter of law and so he was directing the jury to do so. The count in question is count 21. He took the jury to the copy of the indictment in their jury bundle [you can find all counts listed in this post here].
Count 21: Karen McGhee on the 25th day of January 2019 being an individual who had the care of another individual, namely Patient 4, by virtue of being a care worker did wilfully neglect Patient 4 whilst supervising during a period of restraint by failing to prevent ill-treatment of the said Patient 4 by other care workers in attendance.
HHJ Smith reminder the jury that all other counts concern ill-treatment and he reminded them of the legal directions they had already been given in respect of the legal definition of that. He then said that this count, Count 21, is alleged against Karen McGhee, the fourth defendant and it is “all to do with her supervising of a restraint” and that the restraint itself is the subject of other counts.
“As a matter of law I have concluded this particular count should come to an end now. So you’re going to be returning a verdict of not guilty on that charge”.
He then explained that it were unlikely the jury would have selected a foreman as that is usually the first thing that is done once they start their deliberations, so in these circumstances he explained that the court tends to do in the absence of a jury is to ask the person sitting closest to [couldn’t hear] to respond to the clerk’s questions. He said that this did not mean that they are required to be the foreperson from here on in.
HHJ Smith asked the fourth defendant, Karen McGhee, to stand up. The clerk then asked the jury questions which were inaudible on the remote link. The response was not guilty. HHJ Smith suggested that the jury members strike through the count on their copies of the indictment or write not guilty as a note to remind them that count has been settled for legal reasons.
Discussion then moved onto timetabling moving forward. HHJ Smith explained that now the prosecution have closed their case that the next stage was for any of the defendants who wished to put additional evidence before the jury, as they’re entitled to do, to do so. That might involve defendants giving evidence. HHJ Smith is aware from speaking with Mr Rutter, legal counsel for the first defendant, Peter Bennett, that he wishes to give evidence. The estimate is that is likely to take a day to cover all of his evidence and for the cross examination.
At this point we were part way through the day, and HHJ Smith expressed a view that estimates are just that, estimates, and that there were concerns that if we were to start that evidence today then there is a risk of it not being completed by the end of tomorrow. He told the jury that if that were to happen then there would be a break of 10 days in the defendant’s evidence, which he highlighted would, for all sorts of reasons, not be ideal. Defendants are not allowed to speak to their lawyers when they’re in the middle of giving evidence, and HHJ Smith was also concerned about difficulties it may present to the jury of bridging a gap of such a time.
HHJ Smith also explained to the court that this court could not sit for the entirety of tomorrow as one counsel involved in this case had a “particularly pressing engagement in Newcastle Crown Court” that they could not get out of. He explained that this was a commitment related to a very sensitive sexual allegation, involving a vulnerable witness, and that only specially trained and approved practitioners could be involved. He explained further before concluding that due to “pressure on the system” he needed to release that barrister.
HHJ Smith said when the jury return the defence cases would be presented to the court, one after another, and he reiterated that time estimates were estimates and it was hard to say how long that process would take. He explained that counsel and himself thought there was another three weeks of court time in this case.
He said that he would try to pull some time back by sitting earlier in the morning, if that did not present difficulties for the jury members. He also asked any jury members who had immovable commitments, such as medical appointments, to let the jury clerk know, and that the court would work around them. HHJ Smith said he was conscious that they were straying into time in the jury’s calendars that they didn’t know about, that they had been understanding of the court and the court would work around them. He said when they returned “we’ll listen together to what evidence the defence wish to put before you”.
HHJ Smith thanked the ladies and gentlemen of the jury again for their patience and understanding, reminded them of the directions they are under not to do their own research and not to discuss the case, and said that he would see them back at 10am on Tuesday 11 April 2023.
The case will continue then.