QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
B e f o r e :
MR JUSTICE ROYCE
|BALHAM YOUTH COURT||(INTERESTED PARTY)|
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THE DEFENDANT did not appear and was not represented
MR A COLLINGS (instructed by Crown Prosecution Service) appeared on behalf of the INTERESTED PARTY
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"A magistrates' court may at any time, whether before or after beginning to try an information, adjourn the trial, and may do so, notwithstanding anything in this Act, when composed of a single justice."
Helpful observations on the proper approach to an adjournment application where witnesses do not attend can be found in R v Aberdare Justices ex parte Director of Public Prosecutions (1990) 155 JP page 324. Bingham LJ, as he then was, wanted to make two things quite plain:
"First, a decision as to whether or not proceedings should be adjourned is, as counsel for the defendant rightly urged, a decision within the discretion of the trial court. It is pre-eminently a discretionary decision. It follows, as a matter of undoubted law, that it is a decision with which any appellate court will be very slow to interfere. It will accordingly interfere only if very clear grounds are shown for doing so.
Secondly, I wish to make it plain that the justices in this case are in no way open to criticism for paying great attention to the need for expedition in the prosecution of criminal proceedings. It has been said time and time again that delays in the administration of justice are a scandal, and they are more scandalous when it is criminal proceedings, with which a court is concerned."
"It is not possible or desirable to identify hard and fast rules as to when adjournments should or should not be granted. The guiding principle must be that justices should fully examine the circumstances leading to applications for delay, the reasons for those applications and the consequences both to the prosecution and the defence. Ultimately, they must decide what is fair in the light of all those circumstances.
This court will only interfere with the exercise of the justices' discretion whether to grant an adjournment in cases where it is plain that a refusal will cause substantial unfairness to one of the parties. Such unfairness may arise when a defendant is denied a full opportunity to present his case. But neither defendants nor their legal advisers should be permitted to frustrate the objective of a speedy trial without substantial grounds. Applications for adjournments must be subjected to rigorous scrutiny."
"Beyond doubt, in each of these cases the prosecution were the authors of their own misfortune. Save for acknowledging the fact that their witnesses had not turned up, and the inevitable inference that accordingly they could not have been warned, the prosecution on each of these occasions were not armed with any explanation for what had gone wrong, any more than I am today. Justices are obliged, as these justices were obliged, to pay regard to the interests of justice as they affected each side. In cases where offences such as these are alleged, a conviction can, of course, have a highly disruptive effect upon the defendant's life because an inevitable part of penalty is disqualification.
As against that, had the application been refused, there is, or would have been, the collapse of the prosecution, though in this case, of course, the prosecution were the authors of their own misfortune. The justices have an obligation formally to examine the circumstances leading to an application, the reasons for it, and the consequences, both to the prosecution and to the defence. As Bingham LJ observed, 'applications for adjournments must be subjected to rigorous scrutiny', and that observation applies regardless of which side is making the application."
He went to 17 to say:
"The single inquiry made in each of these cases was for an outline of the prosecution's case. The prosecution was not, for example, sent away to investigate the explanation for non-attendance of witnesses. Finally, the court gave no reasons in the case of Mr Stern for its conclusion; and in the case of Mr Walden, gave limited reasons which did not reveal that any regard had been had for any other considerations save for the two identified. Furthermore, these reasons were given in the absence of any 'rigorous scrutiny' of the application. The longer courts tolerate the sort of inefficiency which seems, in each of these cases, to be the explanation for the failure of the witnesses to attend court on the date fixed for the hearing, the longer it will continue. To tolerate it is to encourage it."