West Law Report

If unfitness to plead arises

Posted in Times Law Report by mrkooenglish on September 3, 2008

From The TimesAugust 21, 2008

If unfitness to plead arises
Court of Appeal, Criminal Division
Published August 21, 2008
Regina v Norman
Before Lord Justice Thomas, Mr Justice Forbes and Mr Justice Roderick Evans
Judgment July 30, 2008

Once it was clear that there was an issue as to unfitness to plead, it was necessary to ensure very careful case management so that full information was provided to the court without delay.

The Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, gave guidance after quashing a finding against the appellant, Leslie Norman, on January 31, 2007, before Judge Coltart and a jury at Lewes Crown Court, that, pursuant to section 4A of the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964, as inserted by the Criminal Procedure (Insanity and Unfitness to Plead) Act 1991 and amended by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, he did the act or made the omission charged against him, namely child abduction, contrary to section 2(1)(b) of the Child Abduction Act 1984.

Mr Peter Wilcock, who did not appear at trial, and Miss Pamela Rose, assigned by the Registrar of Criminal Appeals, for the appellant; Mr Richard Cherrill for the Crown.

LORD JUSTICE THOMAS, giving the reserved judgment of the court, said that if the court determined that the appellant was unfit to plead, then it was the court’s duty, under section 4A(2) of the 1964 Act carefully to consider who was the best person to be appointed by the court to put the case for the defence.

The duty was a personal duty to the court which had to consider afresh the person who was to be appointed, not necessarily the same person who had represented the defendant to date, as it was the responsibility of the court to be satisfied that the person appointed was the right person for this difficult task.

The responsibility placed on the person so appointed was quite different from the responsibility placed on an advocate where he or she could take instructions from a client.

The special position of the person so appointed was underlined by the fact that the person was remunerated not through the Criminal Defence Service, but out of central funds.

Given the responsibility that the Act placed on the court, it would not be unusual if the judge needed a little time to consider who was the best person to be so appointed.

Under the present legislation, the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, could not order a retrial, save in very limited circumstances. Serious public concern could arise where the court considered a verdict unsafe and was compelled to enter an acquittal and nothing further could be done, so that the public interest could not be protected.

Their Lordships would hope that Parliament might give consideration to this lacuna in the statutory provisions and consider granting the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division power to order a retrial of the issue as to whether the defendant did the act with which he was charged.

Solicitors: Crown Prosecution Service, Lewes

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