These will be held where the defendant has pleaded not guilty to summary only or either way offence where the defendant has consented to summary trial at the mode of trial hearing. In some cases the defendant does not have to attend court under s12 MCA 1980. He can plead guilty by sending a letter to the court if the offence is summary only and the proceedings have been started by summons. Where this is the case the prosecution must serve on the defendant the summons, a brief statement of the facts on which they rely, any information relating to the defendant that will be put before the court and a notice explaining the procedure.
There are a number of cases where the defendant can be tried in his absence. This can happen where he fails to answer to a summons to appear and it is clear that out was served in him in reasonable time, the magistrates can enter a not guilty plea in his absence and continue to hear the case. Such a trial is likely to result in a conviction as the defendant is not present to put forward their side of the case. He magistrates will them have to decide whether to sentence in their absence or adjourn an issue a warrant of arrest.
Joinder of offences and defendants in the information
At the start of the summary trial the defendant is asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the information or written charge. Normally a written charge only contains one defendant and a single offence. However more than one information/ written charge may be tied together where the defence agrees to the information being tried together or the court orders it because in it is in the interests of justice and the offences form part of a series of offences of similar character. You might object that the charges being tried together is not in the interests of justice, Chief Constable of Norfolk v Clayton (1983) 2 AC 473. You would have put forward arguments to show that the court has sufficiently weighed the convenience for the prosecution against the injustice that might arise for the defendant. You must try to resist joinders wherever possible and your submission would be on the basis that the evidence from one charge may unduly prejudice the magistrates against your client in relation to the other charge.
In the early stages of a summary or either way offence you must interview your client, evaluate the advance information from the prosecution, obtain a representation order and interview any potential witnesses. The Criminal Procedure Rules state that both parties must have consideration to the overriding objective which is to assist the court by identifying witnesses that parties want to give oral evidence, whether an order is needed compelling the attendance of a witness and any written evidence that parties intend to introduce. In preparing for trial you may have to instruct an expert which must be done at the earliest opportunity. A visit to the crime scene would give you a better understanding of the events leading up to the alleged offence and the offence it self. Make sure you take photographs.
After you have obtained full disclosure of the prosecution's case and proof of evidence from defendant and defence witnesses you must evaluate the evidence establishing the strengths and weakness of the prosecution case in order to establish a strategy. Make sure you have contacted all potential witnesses, obtained a proof of evidence and notified them of the time and location of the court. Where a witness does not need to attend court to give evidence their statement can be read to the court under s9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967.
Trial procedure on a not guilty plea
- The prosecutor will outline the case, call their witnesses which will be cross examined by the defence. There may then be re-examination by the prosecution and also questions asked by the bench
- If appropriate the defence will then submit that there is no case to answer
- The defendant will then give evidence as well as other defence witnesses
- The magistrates then decide if case should be dismissed or proved
- The defence is given an opportunity to put forward any points in mitigation
- The case may be adjourned in order for a pre sentence report to be provided and the defendant sentenced.
Please see magistrates' court case progression form and attached directions.
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