On Monday, I attended Shrewsbury Crown Court with my supervisor to cover four Plea and Trial Preparation Hearings (PTPH).
This title is something of a misnomer. If a defendant pleads guilty, the “trial preparation” part becomes redundant and the judge will proceed straight to sentencing, or fix a date on which to sentence (allowing time for consideration of a pre-sentence report).
Whichever way a defendant pleads, as prosecution advocates, we must be ready to assist the judge. This means that for each PTPH, the following items must be prepared in advance:
- Factual Chronology;
- Procedural Chronology;
- Opening Address (assuming guilty plea);
- Sentencing Submissions.
… and I was asked to prepare all these items in all four cases.
I found that Factual Chronologies and Opening Addresses came more naturally (albeit with room for improvement), whereas Procedural Chronologies and Sentencing Submissions took me longer. I prepared on Sunday, starting at around 6pm and finishing at 2am. Apparently, it took my experienced supervisor only half as long.
At court, after our hearings were done, my supervisor went through each item that I had prepared and gave me feedback. My Procedural Chronologies showed the most room for improvement; hence, I received the following pointers.
Key dates for inclusion in a Procedural Chronology…
- 1 – date and time of charge;
- 2 – date of 1st appearance at Magistrates’ Court;
- 3 – date of initial disclosure of prosecution case;
- 4 – date of prior listings, if any;
- 5 – date for each of the Four Stages:-
- (i) Full Prosecution Service (including any and all applications);
- (ii) Service of Defence Statement (including witnesses and edits);
- (iii) Review of Defence Statement (could prompt further disclosure);
- (iv) Defence Complaints About Disclosure, if any.
With regard to #1, my supervisor stresses the importance of noting TIME as well as date. Apparently, it’s not unknown to have a case where (e.g.) the defendant was charged with breaching a Restraining Order at 11am, then went straight round to the victim’s house to abuse her some more — thereby committing a further breach. In such cases, it’s massively helpful to know the timing of each charge. This helps to avoid getting in a muddle. It’s no use looking to the defence for help once you’re on your feet in court!
With regard to #2, it’s vital to know whether a defendant was remanded in custody following his 1st appearance, or remanded on bail. If in custody, a CTL (Custody Time Limit) applies. The prosecution has the burden of monitoring and complying with CTLs. If a CTL expires without a trial having started, the defendant is entitled to be released on bail — no matter how serious the crime or how dangerous the defendant. Basically, for summary offences, the CTL is 56 days; for either-way offences, 56 days (maximum 70); and for indictable offences, 182 days.
Any CTL expiry date must be worked out and added to your Procedural Chronology — checking (always) that a CTL does not expire on a Saturday, Sunday or Bank Holiday. But help is at hand. CPS lawyers rely on a tool known as the CTL Calculator, which presents the correct CTL after inputting the first day on which a defendant was remanded in custody.
Don’t forget to enter all subsequent dates if the defendant was released on bail, but brought back to custody for breaching bail conditions. This will affect his CTL — i.e. the ‘clock’ stops ticking while a defendant is on bail, but resumes ticking if he returns to custody.
… and each separate charge attracts its own CTL!
With regard to #5, my supervisor e-mailed me a Stage Date Calculator (similar to the CTL Calculator); a useful tool for adding future ‘stages’ to a Procedural Chronology. At the push of a button, it presents all of the dates listed in 5(i)–(iv) above. You must input the ‘sending’ date from Magistrates’ Court to Crown Court (likely to be date of 1st appearance), and whether the defendant was remanded in custody or on bail (which you should already have ascertained for #2). After that, the rest is automatic!
On Tuesday, I wrote a second Pre-Charge Advice in the online harassment case, responding to police concerns over my decision not to charge. The complainant is a person in the public eye. Since my decision, the police are apparently being pressured to proceed against the suspect.
I had previously advised taking a further statement from complainant to record the emotional impact of reading e-mails that were sent. Per section 7(2) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, a person cannot be described as “harassed” unless they have been caused to suffer alarm or distress. However, the complainant is unwilling to say as much — instead referring to reputational harm that “could be” caused if e-mailed lies were to find their way into the public domain. The complainant believes this sufficient to justify prosecution for harassment.
I affirmed my original decision, advising that if a person believes their reputation has been (or could be) damaged by lies, the proper course is to seek redress by a civil action for libel. I stated that the Code for Crown Prosecutors requires me to be fair and objective, and to act justly towards the suspect as well as the complainant. Therefore, without firm evidence of alarm or distress, I cannot justify charging harassment under any circumstances.
Two days later, the officer in charge of the case sent an e-mail thanking me for a helpful, well-reasoned advice.
I have since been entrusted with another Pre-Charge Advice: an affray involving multiple suspects. It looks complex, though I have until mid-January to submit it.
Wednesday and Thursday were (mostly) spent reviewing evidence for my supervisor in a case of controlling behaviour in an intimate relationship. I produced a detailed memo — highlighting evidential weaknesses, and concluding for each count on the indictment whether I consider there to be a realistic prospect of conviction. I suggested changes to the wording of the indictment to reflect the true nature of the evidence.
For example, one count alleges that the Defendant showed “unreasonable concern over [Complainant’s] use of her mobile phone.” But witnesses refer more to his obsession with knowing where she was at all times. Hence, I suggested amending this count to allege that the Defendant showed “unreasonable concern as to [Complainant’s] whereabouts.”
My supervisor and I met to discuss this case on Thursday. Some of my suggestions may be actioned.
Friday was quiet. In true festive spirit, our Chief Crown Prosecutor had apparently decreed that everyone (bar none) must vacate the building by 2pm. Who was I to argue?
I finished week six by looking over my affray case and considering what needs to be done on my return. At 2pm, I left to enjoy paid leave… two weeks’ worth.
[Published with the permission of my line manager]