Successful judicial review of conviction of mentally vulnerable man

Monday 16 March 2009

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A mentally vulnerable man who had been convicted and sent to prison by magistrates despite the magistrates' court having been made aware of the fact that he was unfit to plead had his conviction quashed by the Divisional Court in an application for judicial review. In R (V) v Redbridge Magistrates' Court, Openshaw LJ stated that the approach of the Crown Prosecution Service and the magistrates in abandoning a hearing intended to resolve whether the claimant had committed the acts alleged and instead conducting a summary trial leading to conviction and sentence had been quite wrong and unfair. The magistrates and the DPP were both ordered to pay the claimant's costs of the judicial review proceedings.

Mr V was represented in the Administrative Court by Stephen Simblet from Garden Court Chambers.

 

R (on the application of V) (Claimant) v REDBRIDGE MAGISTRATES' COURT (Defendant) & DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS (Interested Party) (2009)

QBD (Admin) (Openshaw LJ, Sweeney J) 11/3/2009

CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

ADJOURNMENT : EXPERT EVIDENCE : FITNESS TO PLEAD : PROSECUTION DISCLOSURE : PROSECUTION EVIDENCE : SUMMARY TRIAL : CHANGE OF FITNESS TO PLEAD TRIAL TO SUMMARY TRIAL : NECESSITY FOR ADJOURNMENT

A decision of a magistrates' court to proceed to summarily try an accused for an offence of driving whilst disqualified rather than determining whether he was fit to stand trial rendered the subsequent trial unfair.

The claimant (V) applied for judicial review of a decision of the defendant magistrates' court to convict him of an offence of driving whilst disqualified. After V had been charged with the offence he was deemed unfit to plead in separate criminal proceedings. Thereafter, V was assessed by medical experts in relation to the proceedings for driving whilst disqualified. Those medical experts found that V was unfit to plead and the case was fixed for a trial of his fitness to plead. Thereafter, in unrelated criminal proceedings a medical expert concluded that V was fit to plead in respect of those proceedings. At the fitness to plead hearing the Crown submitted, relying on the medical expert's opinion that V was fit to plead in the unrelated criminal proceedings, that it was appropriate for the magistrates' court not to determine V's fitness to plead but to go straight to summary trial. V objected and sought an adjournment. In particular V objected to the Crown's reliance on the medical expert's opinion on the basis that it was not agreed or properly adduced. The magistrates' court acceded, without giving reasons, to the Crown's application and proceeded to summarily try the offence of driving whilst disqualified. V's legal representative had received no instructions in relation to the trial of the offence so that the Crown's witnesses were not cross-examined and V gave no evidence.

HELD: The magistrates' court decision not to adjourn was wrong and the subsequent trial of V was unfair so that his conviction fell to be quashed. The magistrates' court had erred in proceeding to try the offence of driving whilst disqualified upon the basis of the medical expert relied upon by the Crown. In particular it had failed to have regard to the evidence of the medical experts who had already stated in the proceedings that V was unfit to plead. Further it was clear that V had been denied the ability to participate in the trial process.

Application granted

Counsel:
For the claimant: Stephen Simblet
For the defendant: No appearance or representation
For the interested party: Stefan Roy

Solicitors:
For the claimant: Leslie Franks
For the interested party: CPS

 

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