By Chris Rafferty
As you are no doubt aware the Criminal Procedure Rules face amendments to be brought into force from 05 October 2015. The previous legislation is to be replaced with consolidated rules including those relating to the duty of parties to criminal proceedings, pre-trial hearings in the Crown Court, and the circumstances in which a statement needs to be read aloud.
The changes to the rules and to the practice direction form part of the ‘Better Case Management’ initiative and implement some of the recommendations made by Sir Brian Leveson in his Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings.
As you will see, the new rules are mostly concerned with efficient case management. It is not difficult to understand why – in a landscape of ever-dwindling public funds and increasing financial pressures upon the senior judiciary, reducing wasted Court time becomes a top priority.
This article will only deal with some of the more important changes; I will include a link to the rules themselves and the accompanying practice direction for further analysis.
The key changes are summarised as follows:
In an effort to ensure that the Court is assisted to the greatest possible degree, all parties to criminal proceedings are required to engage in meaningful co-operation to resolve outstanding issues, with or without the direction of the Court.
Rule 3.3 imposes a duty upon the parties to engage in what is referred to as ‘active assistance’ for the purposes of establishing:
- The intended plea.
- Agreed and disputed facts.
- The outstanding information required by the parties and, importantly, why the parties require such information.
- Rather vaguely and in somewhat of a catch-all provision: ‘what is to be done, by whom, and when, with or without a necessary direction.’
Plea and trial preparation hearing
Rule 3.13(1)(b) makes it compulsory for the Crown Court to conduct a plea and trial preparation hearing to take place earlier than the current PCMH. The idea (as the rule continues to imply) is that any further hearings will be rendered unnecessary in most other cases:
‘The Crown Court will conduct a further pre-trial case management hearing (and if necessary more than one such hearing) only where –
- The Court anticipates a guilty plea
- It is necessary to conduct such a hearing in order to give directions for an effective trial, or
- Such a hearing is required to set ground rules for the conduct of the questioning of a witness or defendant.’
If that sounds like there is plenty of scope for allowing a further hearing, unfortunately it is then necessary to consult the Practice Direction (see link at the end of this article). The rules incorporate the arrangements outlined in Criminal Practice Directions Amendment No 4  EWCA Crim 1253 which state at PD 3A.21 that a further hearing will only be listed where the Court so directs to further the overriding objective and in one of the following cases (the practice direction then continues to list 12 specific circumstances in which a hearing will be allowed).
Emphasis is placed upon the service of document via electronic means in an effort to increase efficiency and save time. Rule 4.6 infers a presumption that electronic service is permitted where an e-mail address has been provided by an individual. The individual can choose not accept electronic service but this choice must be communicated. Where the party is legally represented, as long as an e-mail address is provided, there is no option to refuse service electronically.
The rules specifically state at 4.6(3) that where service has been effected electronically there is no requirement to then provide a hard copy of the relevant correspondence.
The classes of documentation required to be specifically served other than via electronic means are further limited in rule 4.7; only applications relating to contempt of court proceedings and section 172/112 notices (relating to the identification of a driver).
Finally, again as a catch-all provision, rule 5.1 requires parties to use electronic means to submit information to the Court, including applications, where the Court has made the appropriate arrangements to do so.
In the Magistrates’ Court the rules are now designed to allow the Defendant to obtain as much information possible at the earliest stage. Rule 8.3 requires (where the Defendant is not in custody prior to the first appearance) the prosecution case to include:
- a summary of the circumstances of the offence,
- any account given by the defendant in interview, whether contained in that summary or in another document,
- any written witness statement or exhibit that the prosecutor then has available and considers material to plea, or to the allocation of the case for trial, or to sentence,
- the defendant’s criminal record, if any, and
- any available statement of the effect of the offence on a victim, a victim’s family or others.
There is now an express duty to give a realistic time limit within which expert evidence can be prepared. Other amendments relate to:
- directions to the jury (r 25.14)
- misconduct by jurors (r 26.3)
- retrial after acquittal (Pt 27 replacing Crim PR 2014, Pts 40, 41)
- representations about driving disqualification or endorsement (r 29.1), and
- European protection orders (rr 31.9, 31.10)
Criminal Procedure Rules 2015: