Monday, January 31, 2011

HousingSA. Police Prosecutors. Special Needs tenants. Fiction V Reality


As reported in my previous Post, in support of my friend, I fronted up to Holden Hill Magistrate’s Court last week. Pre-Trial conference (PTC).

Courts are clogged. Any day of the week, click through to the Cases List on the web site. Particularly the suburban courts.

Looking at the array of charges, I wonder why they actually get to court, get past the PTCs. After all, is that not the purpose of the PTC?

To prevent the pipes from becoming clogged up? “Hey, Mister Prosecutor, I am guilty, can we make this quick? Sorry for what I did. Won't do it again.”

And, why so many adjournments? Having supported many poor bewlidered souls, first time Courtees, all on the Legal Aid hurdy gurdy, I have wondered about that...why all the adjournments! Why did her lawyer ask for so many adjournments?

How does it work behind the scenes? Lawyer, one appearance. Lawyer, one fee? Second appearance...

My friend has no legal representation. However, the issue is straightforward. A neighbour dispute. No violence. Just a lot of bluster between two HousingSA tenants.

With the PTC drawing closer, on her behalf, I wrote to the Prosecution Branch, Holden Hill Police Station. We only wanted an appointment prior to the PTC. Why?


Our request was in accordance with the advice below. Llifted off the Courts administration web site. The interesting bit begins with; ‘...Prior to the PTC...’

Information about PTCs for self-represented litigants.

What is a PTC?

The Magistrates Court Rules require parties to proceedings to be ready to proceed to trial by the date of the hearing at which a trial date is set. Once a trial date has been fixed it will not be postponed unless there are very good reasons

Rule 8 and Rule 26 set out what is meant to happen before a matter is listed for trial.

This should be complied with as much as possible before the PTC.

Why has your matter been listed for a PTC?

To make sure that parties have complied with this rule and are ready for a trial date to be set, you are required to attend a PTC to find out:-

· Can the matter be sorted out without a trial; and

· Sort out what evidence will need to be given, whether some of the evidence can be agreed and other matters to make the progress of the trial easier; and

· If a trial is needed, find out how long the trial will take and set a date that is convenient to the parties and witnesses.

How long will the PTC take?

A PTC will usually take between 5 and 20 minutes.

What am I required to do or bring?

Prior to the PTC you should make contact with the prosecution unit to discuss the issues fully and frankly. Their contact details should be on the court documents that were given to you.

Examples of the sort of thing that should be discussed with the prosecution before the PTC date so that the prosecution can consider it before the PTC:-

· any evidence of alibi (you could not have committed the offence because you were somewhere else at the time);

· any documents which may assist your defence;

· tell them your version of the events, including what witnesses you have and what you think that they will say

The Magistrate will need the co-operation of both parties to attempt to resolve your matter.

You must attend the PTC. If you do not attend either personally or by a solicitor you may be found guilty and a penalty imposed in your absence.

If you are on Bail you must attend or a warrant may be issued for your arrest.

Your witnesses do not need to come to the PTC.


As Meatloaf said by the Dashboard Light...stop right there!

First up, my friend was and remains under the impression she has no representation. I agreed with that when I read the letter from the Legal Aid-financed law firm's Finance Manager that clearly stated, some months ago, that unless a payment was made immediately to their office...adios amigo!

That was why, I thought, I was doing the right thing, by the book, writing to the Prosecutor seeking an appointment. Then having not heard back, I telephoned. THAT one-way conversation was a hint of things to come!

Waiting outside Courtroom 2, last week, my friend was approached by, presumably, a lawyer. Now known, by us, as a lawyer from the firm that sent the ‘Dear John’ letter last year.

I was only a few feet away when he approached. However, It became evident I was but an apparition. I must have been as he was transmitting messages to me, via her.

According to Mr Lawyer, my letter, and my 'we-have-not-heard-from-you' telephone call, both to the Prosecutor, had PISSED HER OFF! I was not to approach her, the Prosecutor, ever again. Admittedly, I had a foreboding of this when she zoomed past us earlier, despite her saying she would come speak with us prior to the 2.15pm death march. Admittedly, we could have been hard to notice. We were the only ones there, bar some other poor bugger a distance away.

In my very, very, very best irish-english, I laid out the story from my friend’s viewpoint, and asked for an appointment. That is all we wanted. An appointment. A conversation. We were simply following the Courts Authority directions.

Besides, the defendant was and still is INNOCENT!

The Magistrate’s Court web site says: ' should make contact with the prosecution unit to discuss the issues fully and frankly...'

I was confused. When I spoke to the Prosecutor a few days before, she had no idea what I was on about with regard to the Court web site. The extract above. I kept referring to it. I think she became annoyed.

She had no time for me. It was one of those conversations when you know you would have more chance strking up a two-way with a Mongolian Yak complete with a lisp. She took a couple of breaths between long, repetitive sentences, sentences about how I cannot represent someone. I got sick to death of saying that all I did was write a bloody letter seeking to tee up an appointment for the still-innocent defendant.

Anyway, this lawyer, who appeared out of somewhere, waltzed away, spoke with the Prosecutor, reappeared a few minutes later, and declared the matter would proceed to trial, in May. When my friend, the mother of my gorgeous granddaughter told him a couple of salient facts, I heard him say; "I didnt know that!"

Poor Mrs X was then called in to the Courtroom, reappearing a few moments later.

‘Rob. I don’t know what happened. That lawyer said nothing. I was handed a slip and told to return in May for a trial”.

So, let me see if I have this one worked out.

Someone, anyone (in this case, a HousingSA special-needs tenant), can call the police, say that you shouted and raised your fist, you get arrested, taken to a faraway station, you get charged, albeit months later, you go through various adjournments and you don’t know why, the lawyers drop you, you do as directed by Courts, the prosecutor doesn’t want to know you, and then you’re off to trial!


Is it any wonder disadvantaged people out there are disillusioned, pissed off and getting crankier by the day?

Minister Rankine. Your people have known about the troubles caused by this group of special-needs tenants for a very, very, very long time.

Your ‘inability’ to nip these now festering issues in the buds has created this mess, a mess for a ‘good tenant’ who has only ever wanted one thing...fore the idiots in the street to leave...her...alone!

Going to Court is a bloody trauma. This young mother is consumed by stress, by worry, and by total bewilderment.

Hell, so am I!

Where to from here? Well, I have spoken with a lawyer. I have spoken with Legal Aid. I have spoken with Courts administration. I have spoken with the police. And we now have one for the books...we all agree. Well, except for the one that matters...the Prosecutor.

More hours of time involving so many people. When all the Prosecutor had to do was abide by what the Courts administration tells the rest of us to do.

Mister Attorney-General. Mr Rau. YOU ARE the local member for this young mum. You need to step up to the plate and, as I have asked you to do before...sprinkle some common sense over it.

I am quite certain the battle-weary, factory production line Judges have had a gutful. Can we not see to it that the system everyone talks about is at least followed by the very people we pay to protect the community?

Oh. A small, fleeting thought. I can but wonder how that lawyer would have behaved had I been in my old Attorney-General's Department business suit, and my friend in her sunday best.  Just a passing thought, yeah, I could be wrong...


Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a debacle. One wonders what would have occurred if Minister Rankine or the Attorney General had had such matters to deal with in respect to their unruly neighbours.

The whole show is a mess. The courts are theatre. Live theatre. Pity is about people's lives.

adelcomp said...

Yes, it is. In a previous life, working with some Ministers, it really pissed me off to see those around me jump to attention, nothing getting in the way, and 'we better have it sorted by teatime' when a Minister OR a Minister's mate raised an issue. I suppose it is no different to anywhere else on the planet.

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Anonymous said...

should someone tell the Universities teaching law about PTC ? Very innovative concept. Might even reduce the number of lawyers required. Therefore it's obviously not a subject of interest to them, yet.
I never cease to be amazed how many lawyers are:
Out of touch with the real lives of real people
Are naive about the realities of life.
Complicate what a normal person with commonsense would see immediately
Are thoughtless and pompous, in the extreme
Think they already know everything
Imagine it is the rest of the world who are cretins
Think money grows on tree
They can delay you over and over again, and you can sit and wait and wait, but woe betide you if you are one minute late
Lawyers would rather waste years trying to discourage PTC and Alternative dispute resolution

Besides if you can represent yourself in court, then why can't a friend stand up for you in court too?
The answer is :
Any such move would threaten lawyer's fee