Updated and consolidated rules regarding practice in the criminal courts came into force this month. We outline the relevant changes and how they affect businesses.
The updated Criminal Procedure Rules 2015 (the ‘CrimPR’) came into force in October 2015, and whilst they have seen many updates over the past decade, the recent changes are particularly important.
As always the driving force behind these changes is the ever present need to make the criminal justice system more efficient, just, and ultimately less of a burden on the public purse. Early and more thorough case preparation is key to compliance with the CrimPR, and whilst many provisions are of more concern for advocates, there are key changes that businesses should bear in mind.
The CrimPR outline the practice and procedure to be followed in the criminal courts. They are supplemented by the Criminal Practice Directions (the ‘CrimPD’).
Referencing: Out with the old (and the “new”)
The CrimPR, as they are now officially to be referenced, have been rearranged to fill previously empty sections, creating a more accessible and clearer set of sequential rules relating to each stage of criminal proceedings. They are also no longer referred to as ‘new’, thus cementing their place at the bedrock of criminal practice.
Case management: ‘Active Assistance’
The Court has a general duty in criminal proceedings to deal with criminal cases justly, efficiently and expeditiously. Under new CrimPR 3.3 parties are required to ‘actively assist’ the court in achieving these aims by communicating at the earliest possible opportunity in order to establish the following:
- Whether the defendant is likely to plead guilty or not guilty
- What is agreed and what is likely to be disputed
- What information, or other material, is required by one party of another, and why
- What is to be done, by whom, and when
This information should then be reported to the court at the first hearing.
In light of the new rules, it is now more important than ever that clear and thorough instructions are provided by business clients to their advocates at the outset in criminal proceedings, so that decisions about plea and case management can be made and communicated as soon as possible.
In order to ensure that parties are in a position to meet their new Case Management obligations, CrimPR 8 sets out the requirements placed upon the prosecution in terms of disclosing the initial details (not to be confused with the ‘initial disclosure’) of its case. These requirements now apply in every case that appears before the magistrate.
CrimPD 3A.12 reinforces that more information should be provided by the prosecution where not guilty pleas are anticipated, in order that defendants receive sufficient information about the prosecution case at the earliest opportunity.
Now that there is an express duty on the parties to communicate early in a case, this and the ‘initial details’ provision can be used to push the prosecution for information about their case right from the start.
Crown Court: Plea and Trial Preparation Hearings
CrimPR 3.13 introduces a new hearing type in matters before the Crown Court known as a ‘Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing’ (‘PTPH’). The PTPH replaces the former ‘Plea and Case Management Hearing’, taking place earlier in proceedings and with the intention of negating the need for further hearings prior to Trial. Further case management hearings will only be held in limited circumstances at the discretion of the Court.
A natural consequence of the new system is that parties should be fully prepared to set out and address all case management issues at the PTPH, including not least witness attendance and time frames for disclosure. Defendants in the Crown Court should expect to be asked by their advocates to assist in completion of a PTPH ‘form’ setting out, in detail, all case management issues to be addressed at the PTPH.
Other Relevant Provisions
- Further encouragement to submit documents and applications electronically (CrimPR 4 and 5 respectively)
- More flexible timescales for objecting to the reading out of a witness statement served in accordance with Section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967. (CrimPR 16)
- Expert Witnesses now under a duty to ‘actively assist’ the Court, in much the same way as the parties themselves are. (CrimPR 19)
Sanctions and Enforceability
Whilst the Courts power to impose sanctions for non-compliance has not been altered, your business must appreciate that failure to adhere to the CrimPR could result in an order for wasted costs, exclusion of evidence or even a staying of proceedings.
It is also probable that future updates to the CrimPR may well focus on developing newer, more practicable sanctions that align more closely with the driving forces behind reform of criminal practice and procedure.
This new focus on sanctions may be used to a Defendant’s advantage if other parties, frequently the Prosecution, fail to meet obligations and deadlines.
Authors: Anne Marie Taylor & Joseph MartinThis information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.