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Committal for sentence

1. Where, in the magistrates’ court, an offender has been convicted of, or has pleaded guilty to, an either way offence, but the magistrates consider that the penalties available to them are inadequate having regard to the seriousness of the offence or combination of offences, they may commit the offender to the Crown Court for sentencing 1. This power applies to both companies and individuals 2.

2. The magistrates may decide to commit the case to the Crown Court for sentence even though they made a decision at the first hearing that the case was suitable for trial in the magistrates’ court and no new information has been received 3.

3. It is not the prosecution’s role to invite the court either to retain the case for sentencing or to commit it to the Crown Court. You may consider it appropriate to refer the court to the judgment in Howe 4, in which the Court of Appeal expressed the view that “magistrates should always think carefully before accepting jurisdiction in health and safety at work cases, where it is arguable that the fine may exceed the limit of their jurisdiction or where death or serious injury has resulted from the offence”.

4. In the case of an individual, the magistrates have the power to make an order requiring the defendant to provide a statement of his/her financial circumstances 5, which will assist the Crown Court in determining an appropriate sentence (see Preparing for sentencing hearings).

5. Crown Court will notify you when the case is to be heard. You should inform interested parties, such as any injured persons or bereaved families, and the Press Office.

6. Where a solicitor agent was not instructed to represent HSE in the magistrates’ court, you must refer the case to the Legal Adviser’s Office (LAO) as soon as possible after the court’s decision to commit for sentence to the Crown Court 6. LAO will provide support in preparing the necessary documentation and arranging legal representation. You will be asked to provide LAO with a copy of all the papers, including a note of the proceedings in the magistrates’ court, the case summary used and any agreed basis of plea (normally in the Friskies schedule), and an up-to-date costs schedule.

7. Where solicitor agents represented HSE in the magistrates’ court, they should continue to act and should contact LAO before instructing an advocate to appear in the Crown Court 7.

8. Crown Court will usually require all witness statements to be typed and you should normally, therefore, arrange for any handwritten statements to be typed as a matter of urgency.

9. You should attend the sentencing hearing to assist counsel. Where the magistrates’ court has held a Newton hearing and made a decision upon it before committing the case, the Crown Court has the power, on committal of an either way offence, to hold a further Newton hearing if it is in the interests of fairness and justice to do so 8.

10. Where committal for sentence follows a guilty plea in the magistrates’ court, the Crown Court has a discretion to allow the defendant to change his/her plea to not guilty at any time before sentence is passed 9. The defendant must apply to change a guilty plea as soon as practicable after s/he becomes aware of the grounds for making the application, and s/he may do so only before final disposal of the case 10.


Footnotes

  1. Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (‘PCCSA 2000’), sections 3 to 5.
  2. PCCSA 2000, s.3(1)(a) refers to a ‘person’ not an ‘individual’. Companies fall within this definition as they are a legal ‘person’.
  3. v North Sefton Magistrates’ Court, ex parte Marsh [1994] Crim LR 865. The Court agreed with the observation in R v Dover Magistrates’ Court, ex parte Pamment [1994] Crim LR 471 that the magistrates should continue to think carefully when deciding to accept jurisdiction, because normally an accused should be able to conclude that once jurisdiction had been accepted, s/he would not on the same facts be committed to the Crown Court for sentence.
  4. R v F Howe & Son (Engineers) Ltd [1999] 2 All ER 249 (at page 255).
  5. Criminal Justice Act 2003, s.162.
  6. See OC 168/12.
  7. See OC 168/13.
  8. Gillan v Director of Public Prosecutions [2007] EWHC 380 (Admin), DC.
  9. S (an Infant) v Manchester City Recorder [1971] AC 481, HL; R v Mutford and Lothingland Justices ex parte Harber [1971] 2 QB 291, DC.
  10. Rule 39.3 Criminal Procedure Rules 2012. Unless the court directs otherwise, the application must be in writing and include the information set out in the Rule. The defendant must serve the application on the court and prosecutor. Cases in which it would be proper to allow a change of plea at this stage “must be comparatively rare” (Lord Parker, CJ in R v Mutford and Lothingland Justices ex parte Harber (see above) at page 299).
Updated 2013-09-20