TWO court cases - including one where three people were allegedly assaulted - had to be dropped after a prosecution lawyer failed to turn up.
The independent lawyer had been hired by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) but did not appear at Oxford Magistrates’ Court last Tuesday.
As a result, a local prosecutor was sent from the CPS’s Cowley office, but arrived at 11.40am, 25 minutes after the cases – one an assault trial – had been dismissed.
Magistrates’ Association chairman Richard Monkhouse said: “Failure to attend court, be it prosecution or defence, wastes the time of magistrates and court staff when it could be better served delivering justice.”
One man was due to stand trial charged with four counts of assault in Witney against three people.
He had pleaded not guilty, but the trial had to be dropped.
It is understood his lawyers are now applying to recoup the money wasted in taking the case to court.
The second case was a man who had been charged with failing to provide a breath specimen.
District Judge Tim Pattinson told him: “For legal reasons I’m formally dismissing the case against you.
“That means, put another way, I’m formally finding you not guilty.”
The unit’s Adrian Foster, chief crown prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service, said he had personally apologised to the complainants and witnesses in the cases.
It comes as an inspection report published in February revealed the Thames Valley CPS unit was one of the worst in the country.
The report, based on an inspection last year, ranked it 41st out of 42 units in either not getting a guilty plea or a conviction at a trial for magistrates’ cases, and was ranked 38th in crown court cases.
Between April last year and March this year, nine per cent of the Thames and Chiltern CPS’ 15,981 half-day magistrate court sessions were taken on by external prosecutors.
Mr Foster said: “We acknowledge that due to an error, the external barrister that we had instructed did not attend court as expected on Tuesday.
“Since this incident we have put in place an additional check into the process for confirming that instructed barristers will attend their allocated court as expected.”
However, just last month the CPS' handling of cases was lambasted as shambolic by a Crown Court judge frustrated at continual delays.
Judge Francis Sheridan said: "It is a massive implosion into the taxpayers' fund.
"This is a shambles at the moment.
"Somebody has got to seize this. Somebody must take control of the CPS in this courtroom."
Mr Foster said in the past 12 months 0.07 per cent of prosecutions at Oxford Magistrates’ Court failed due to the CPS not being ready to proceed.
He added: “Although this figure is small, any amount of discontinued cases for CPS reasons are disappointing.
“I can assure the public that in all such cases lessons are learned.
“We are disappointed that these cases have been brought to an end in this way and I have personally written to the victims and witnesses to offer an explanation and an apology.”
The local Crown Prosecution Service has also admitted recently it bungled when it twice made untrue allegations against the Oxford Mail over the Ahmed Bullfinch sexual abuse case.