Law Report: 12 march 1998: Court had jurisdiction to add charges

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Regina v Stephenson; Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) (Lord Justice Buxton, Mr Justice Rougier and the Common Serjeant) 5 March 1998

WHERE offences charged against a young person which were not suitable for summary trial were transferred to the Crown Court for trial on indictment, the court had jurisdiction to add to the indictment summary offences which were closely linked to them, and which had previously been withdrawn in the magistrates' court.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of Paul John Stephenson against his conviction of one count of indecent assault and two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The appellant, who was aged 17, had appeared before the youth court, charged with two cases of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and three cases of indecent assault. All the alleged offences concerned the same complainant.

Win Hunter (Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the appellant; Sean Larkin (Crown Prosecution Service) for the Crown.

Lord Justice Buxton said that the youth court had determined that the indecent assault counts were not suitable for summary trial. They were offences to which section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 applied, and could therefore be committed for trial to the Crown Court under section 23 of the Magistrates Courts Act 1980. On the same date, the appellant had pleaded guilty to the two charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, but the youth court had determined that those pleas should be treated not as final pleas but simply as an indication of his intention as to plea.

The principal crown prosecutor responsible for the proceedings against the appellant in the youth court had taken the view that the actual bodily harm charges were closely linked to the indecent assault charges and that they should all be tried together in the Crown Court. She had therefore applied for the indecent assault charges to be transferred to the Crown Court and, having obtained confirmation that no pleas in respect of the actually bodily harm charges had been recorded on the previous occasion, had applied to withdraw those charges in the magistrates' court, with the intention that they should be added to the indictment in the Crown Court.

The appeal had arisen because it was contended that it was not open to the Crown Court to add those counts to the indictment because the offences should have been dealt with at the magistrates' court in accordance with section 24 of the 1980 Act.

Where a person under 18 appeared before a youth court on an information charging him with an indictable offence not covered by section 53(2) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 he should be tried summarily. Section 24 of the 1980 Act however, provided that that step should be taken only when a juvenile appeared before the youth court on an information. In the present case, once the prosecution had taken the step of withdrawing the actual bodily harm charges, the appellant had not been before the magistrates' court on such an information, the only information then before the court being that charging the indecent assaults.

Counsel for the appellant said that did not matter. The appellant had originally been before the court on such an information and should therefore have been proceeded against summarily. Once that step had not been taken, section 24(1) of the 1980 Act had the effect of depriving the Crown Court of jurisdiction over those charges, however much joinder of the actual bodily harm counts was otherwise within the Crown Court's powers.

Section 24 was, however, directed only at the procedure of the magistrates' court. It could not operate so as to deprive the Crown Court of jurisdiction to consider the joinder of a count such as the actual bodily harm counts in the present case. The Crown Court had jurisdiction to decide in an appropriate case that joinder of such a count would be an abuse of the process of the Crown Court. Nothing of the sort had been suggested in the present case. The prosecution had taken the steps it had so that one court could properly consider all of the related matters. The appellant had always admitted his guilt of the actual bodily harm counts, and there had been no substantial reason put before the Crown Court why that court should not deal with that matter.