The defendant in question faced a count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, following a night out with friends. She bumped into a former boyfriend’s current partner and it was alleged that she smashed a bottle over the victim’s head during a brawl. The witness, who was the defendant’s former boyfriend, was crucial to the defence case. He said that far from the victim not expecting to see the defendant that evening, she had in fact telephoned him before she went out to inform him that she and her friends knew where the defendant would be and were going there for the purpose of antagonising. She encouraged her boyfriend to meet her there but he told her not to go in case of trouble.

The witness had promised to make himself available to give evidence but my instructing solicitors were taken by surprise to discover that he had in fact left the country. Prosecution counsel was unwilling to allow me to read the  statement from him since of course he undermined the Crown’s chief witness. I could ask for an adjournment, but the judge was unlikely to be sympathetic. Another alternative was to make an application to adduce the statement as hearsay under section 116(2) (c) or (d) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, but that would be met by the question of why the difficulty had not emerged sooner. Fortunately, I had a friend in Army Legal Services and it was soon confirmed both that the witness was on Cyprus, and also where he was stationed.

Technical difficulties meant that a live link could not be established between the court and the barracks in Cyprus. Time was running out and I had not even prepared a written application to adduce the document although my Archbold was open at Paragraph 11-20.

A disciple of Apple, I had nevertheless declined my wife’s offer to buy me an Ipad on its initial release and had instead waited for the Ipad2, knowing it would come with a front and rear facing camera allowing me to use Skype for friends and family. What I didn’t know was that I would use it in an English court room during a trial. It was 2.10pm when I asked the Clerk to reconvene the court. I explained that I could use a Skype link on my iPad2 to the witness’s laptop computer. The prosecution was willing to proceed in this way provided that: the witness consented; his identity could be confirmed; he could take the oath; and that he could be subject to cross examination.

After hearing my novel suggestion, the judge agreed. He allowed me to set up my ipad2 in front of the jury box and the call was made to Dekhelia Barracks, on Cyprus. The image of the soldier in uniform was crystal clear and the sound without interference. “This is better than the video link to Woodhill,” commented the usher, (the court’s video link used for directions hearings; it sometimes has connection problems). Once the identity of the soldier was confirmed by a senior officer standing with him, the learned Recorder allowed him to be sworn in with the usher reading the oath and the witness repeating it. The stage was set. The jury sat staring intently at the ipad2 screen having had the problem explained to them.

They appeared to be intrigued and excited at this use of the iPad in a criminal case and were happy to look at the small screen which showed the witness’s face and body in uniform, as well as clearly transmitting his voice. They remained curious as to whether it would work but in fact there was no break in the audio or visual. Judge and both counsel abandoned their usual places to sit around the screen so that the witness could see each person in turn. Examination in chief and cross examination was achieved without incident. The judge thanked the delighted witness, “for giving evidence in this very usual way”.

The trial concluded with a “not guilty” verdict; this novel way of calling a witness had enabled the case to proceed without delay and to the satisfaction of all parties. “May I commend you Mr Akinsanya, for your improvisation, and both counsel for their work in making the trial run smoothly and efficiently.” Music to my ears and surely to those at the Ministry of Justice who want us to conduct trials more efficiently.
At a time when there is not much to smile about as an independent criminal practitioner, it was good to be thanked by the court and my client, all in the same day. Who says trial advocates delay unnecessarily and don’t think outside the box? And thank you Mr Jobs ... thank you for my ipad2!