Lawyer's staff 'at fault' for no-show

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 12:00am

Justice department says barrister was not in court due to communication trouble

The Department of Justice last night blamed a breakdown in communications as the reason for a veteran barrister's failure to appear in court as a prosecutor in a robbery case.

Barrister John Necholas was criticised by Deputy District Court Judge David Dufton for failing to appear on the first day of a robbery case in August, but he defended himself yesterday, saying he was unaware that he had been due to serve as a prosecutor.

In a letter to the South China Morning Post, the barrister said the department had since made its own inquiries and found that his court absence was 'not through any fault of mine at all'.

A department statement confirmed his claim but appeared to lay the blame on his staff.

'It seems that the failure of Mr Necholas to appear in court on August 9 was due to a breakdown in communications in his chambers,' the statement said.

'We wrote to the manager of the chambers on September 6 requesting that steps be put in place to ensure that this sort of thing did not happen again.'

Mr Necholas said he read an online article in the South China Morning Post on September 1 about his absence from court while he was still in London and he immediately wrote to inform Judge Dufton's clerk of the reason.

The Post reported that Mr Dufton strongly criticised Mr Necholas in court on August 31 for failing to turn up to prosecute on August 9, without informing the judiciary or the Justice Department of the reasons.

'I immediately informed the deputy judge through his clerk by fax of the reason for my absence, that I had been away from Hong Kong since the end of June and had been wholly unaware of this case and that consequently I did not appear,' he wrote in his letter to the Post.

The Department of Justice had called on Mr Necholas to give a full report as to why he failed to inform them ahead of time and the nature of the 'urgent family matter' that required his presence in Britain.

Mr Necholas was absent from the start of the robbery trial on August 9, which was adjourned to the afternoon before being taken over by another barrister from the same chambers, Malcolm Nunns.

Mr Necholas' clerk sent a letter to the court later that day, but this did not satisfy Judge Dufton, who described the situation as 'regrettable' and 'very unsatisfactory'.

Mr Necholas said yesterday he had also sought to clarify the matter with the chairman of the Bar and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

'The Department [of Justice] has also later informed the Deputy Judge that I had not personally received the brief and had not come to know of the case at the time. 'Since returning ... in mid-October, I have met the Deputy Judge ... and he confirmed he had received the Department of Justice's letter and that he was fully aware of the reason for my absence.'