Pre-Trial Directions Hearings in Criminal Matters - Midland Circuit
PRACTICE DIRECTION ON PRE-TRIAL
DIRECTIONS HEARINGS IN CRIMINAL MATTERS
From Michaelmas term onwards a pre-trial directions hearing will be held in respect of all criminal jury trials on the Midland circuit. The purpose of the directions hearing is to assist the prosecution and the defence in determining what matters are agreed and what matters are in contention. This is particularly important as it will assist in determining what witnesses are required to give evidence and what witnesses can be agreed and have their statements read into the record. It is also envisaged that matters in relation to chain of evidence, caution, arrest, charge and detention could also be agreed at the directions hearing thereby dispensing with the necessity of having witnesses pertaining to such matters attend court. This will require that the Prosecution serve all necessary and available Statements of Additional Evidence relating to issues such as chain of custody and legality of detention prior to the pre-trial directions hearing. The proper functioning of the direction hearings will also require that the Defence co-operate by furnishing all details of expert witnesses as set out in s.34(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act, 2010 to the prosecution in advance of the directions hearing, notwithstanding that the time limit set by s.34(2) of the Criminal Procedure Act, 2010 will not have expired. It will also require the defence to indicate their stance prior to the direction hearings in respect of any notice served by the Prosecution pursuant to s.22 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 and to confirm the position as concerns the calling of any alibi evidence. A failure by the Prosecution or Defence to take these steps in a factor to be taken into account in making any decision to certify the directions hearing as a trial day.
Given the advent of the Covid 19 crisis there is an imperative on the judiciary, the court service, legal practitioners and litigants to minimise the number of people who attend court. This objective can be greatly facilitated by means of the pre-trial directions hearing. It is anticipated that the pre-trial directions hearing will be held at least three weeks prior to the date of trial. Representatives from the prosecution and the defence will be required to attend the pre-trial directions hearing which will be treated as a trial date for legal aid purposes. In order for the pre-trial directions hearing to work effectively both the prosecution and the defence will have to familiarise themselves fully with the book of evidence and all disclosure documentation. It is possible that the early familiarisation with this documentation may result in the accused deciding to be re-arraigned and to plead guilty. Should this happen such a guilty plea will be treated as an early plea for sentencing purposes. In the event of an accused person being convicted subsequently, the fact of co-operation by that accused person with the directions hearings, so as to avoid the attendance of witnesses whose presence is not required, is a matter that can be taken in account in the mitigation of sentence.
In order to ensure the effectiveness of the pre-trial directions hearing it should be noted that if there is a change in instructions by an accused on the trial date and subsequent dates, whereby witnesses that were previously agreed are now required to attend or expert witnesses who were not indicated, are notified pursuant to s.34 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 2010 after the direction hearing, then such a change of instructions may result in the issue of legal aid in respect of the pre-trial directions hearing being revisited and possibly revoked. Obviously each such change of instructions will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and all relevant circumstances will be taken into account before a determination to revoke legal aid for the pre-trial directions hearing is invoked.
It is hoped that the effective implementation of this practice direction will achieve the following objectives:
1.reduce the number of people who have to attend court for trial.
2.expedite trial hearings and increase efficiency.
3.make better and more effective use of court time and facilities.
4.reduce the amount of time the jurors have to spend in court.
5.facilitate the proffering of pleas in advance of the trial date thereby avoiding the necessity of witnesses having to attend court and juries having to be empanelled.
Dated the 30th day of September 2020
Direction issued by
His Honour Judge Keenan Johnson
His Honour Judge Francis Comerford.
Her Honour Judge Karen Fergus.