LAW REPORT: New rules on Crown Court pre-trial hearings

LAW REPORT 18 September 1995
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The Independent Online
Practice Direction: Crown Court Plea and Direction Hearings; Lord Taylor of Gosforth, Lord Chief Justice; 25 July 1995

New rules establishing plea and directions hearings (PDHs) in the Crown Court now apply to all cases (other than serious fraud) in Crown Court centres which have notified magistrates' courts that such hearings have been introduced. At the PDH, pleas are taken and, in contested cases, prosecution and defence must assist the judge by identifying the key issues and providing any additional information required for the proper listing of the case.

Lord Taylor CJ said detailed operation of the rules, which replace those issued on 25 October 1994, will be a matter for the judiciary at each Crown Court centre. The main provisions are as follows.

In every case, other than serious fraud cases in which a notice of transfer to the Crown Court is given under s 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1987, and child-abuse cases transferred under s 53 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, the magistrates' court should commit the defendant to appear in the Crown Court on a specified date, fixed in liaison with the Crown Court listing officer, for an initial PDH.

The purpose of the PDH will be to ensure that all necessary steps have been taken in preparation for trial and to provide sufficient information for a trial date to be arranged. Where practicable, the advocate briefed in the trial will normally be expected to appear at the PDH.

At least 14 days' notice of the PDH shall be given unless the parties agree to shorter notice. The PDH should be within six weeks of committal in cases where the defendant is on bail, and four weeks where the defendant is in custody.

Where the defendant intends to plead guilty to all or part of the indictment, the defence must notify the probation service, the prosecution and the court, as soon as this is known.

The defence must supply the court and the prosecution with a full list of the prosecution witnesses they require to attend at the trial. This must be provided at least 14 days prior to the PDH or within three working days of the notice of the hearing where the PDH is fixed less than 17 days ahead.

For all class 1 offences, and for lengthy and complex cases, a case summary should be prepared by the prosecution, to assist the judge at the PDH by indicating the nature of the case and focusing on the likely issues of fact and/or law. All class 2 cases should be scrutinised by the prosecution to determine whether such a summary is appropriate.

The PDH should normally be held, and orders made, in open court with all defendants present. It should normally be conducted by the trial judge or such judge as the presiding judge or resident judge shall appoint, but in cases in class 1 or 2 or serious sexual offences of any class against a child it should be conducted by a High Court judge or circuit judge or recorder to whom the case has been specifically released in accordance with the directions for the allocation of business within the Crown Court (see [1995] 2 All ER 900, [1995] 1 WLR 1083) or by a directions judge authorised by the presiding judges to conduct such hearings.

At the PDH, arraignments will normally take place. If the defendant pleads guilty, the judge should wherever possible proceed to sentencing.

Following a not guilty plea, and where part or alternative pleas have not been accepted, the prosecution and defence should inform the court of various matters (fully listed in the rules), including the issues in the case, issues as to the mental or medical condition of any defendant or witness, details about the witnesses and the evidence in the case, any facts which are to be admitted and may be reduced into writing, any alibi, any likely application for child witness evidence to be given by live television link or prerecorded video, or for screens to protect the identity of witnesses, any technical equipment likely to be required, the estimated length of the hearing and anything else that might affect the trial.

The judge may then make such orders as appear to be necessary. Each party shall confirm in writing, at least 14 days before the trial, that such orders have been fully complied with.

The defence shall apply to the court for the case to be listed for mention if they are unable to obtain instructions from the defendant. If the defendant fails to attend court, the judge will wish to consider whether a warrant of arrest should be issued.

The rules came into force immediately.

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