Criminal Law Update: series 1

14 December 2004

You are probably aware that on 15th December (i.e. tomorrow) the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Commencement No 6 Order) brings into force sections 98 to 110 and 112 which deal with bad character. The provisions are intended to prevent the sort of wholesale character assassinations that we specialise in by making it harder to justify asking impertinent questions of a witness. You will find the sections in the 2005 Archbold at paras. 13-55 and following.

You may not have heard of the latest Criminal Justice Act because it is cunningly disguised at something called the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 but you will need to be aware of sections 10 to 31 which are headed ‘Criminal Justice’ and do make some important changes although they are not yet in force. You will not find the Act in the 2005 Archbold or even the supplement which may mean that it is unlikely to come into force for a while but it is set out in summary in Criminal Law Week at 04/43/21. There are 3 areas that are likely to affect our work.

  1. Common Assault is now made an alternative verdict under 6. 6 CLA 1967;
  2. Sections 17 to 21 make provision for the trial WITHOUT A JURY of sample counts in an indictment. The idea appears to be that a jury will hear certain counts which are also sample counts and if they convict the court can then hear the rest of the counts without a jury. I imagine the justification for this is likely to be that in a case involving domestic violence it is preferable to do this rather than overload the indictment for the jury but the fact remains that this is another inroad on the right to jury trial. It seems to me that this is equally applicable to case of historic sexual abuse with which we are more involved. If this procedure is to be used in such cases obviously this is a particularly serious development. Interestingly the Act appears to make no provision for what is supposed to happen to the other sample counts in the event that the jury acquit the defendant which only goes to confirm my long held belief that Blunkett does not accept that innocent people ever get charged; and
  3. Fitness to plead cases will no longer be decided by a jury. This applies not just to the first questions as to fitness to plead but also to the factual findings as to whether the defendant did the act or omission alleged.

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