QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
THE ADMINISTRATIVE COURT
B e f o r e :
|THE QUEEN ON THE APPLICATION OF WALDEN||(CLAIMANT)|
|HIGHBURY CORNER MAGISTRATES' COURT||(DEFENDANT)|
|THE QUEEN ON THE APPLICATION OF STERN||(CLAIMANT)|
|HIGHBURY CORNER MAGISTRATES' COURT||(DEFENDANT)|
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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."
"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 for criminal proceedings. It has been said time and time again that delays in the administration of justice are a scandal, and they are the more scandalous when it is criminal proceedings with which a court is concerned."
"The third factor which impresses me is that I think the justices failed to pay regard to the interests of justice as they affected both side. They were conscious, and rightly conscious, of the defendant's desire that the, matter alleged against him should be cleared up one way or the other and were no doubt conscious of the fact that he had had this matter hanging over him for some time and that another adjournment would prolong his uncertainty and concern. On the other hand, of course, there was the interest of the prosecution, representing the public, that a charge properly preferred against the defendant should be the subject of proper adjudication. It is, of course, right that those about whose guilt there is any doubt should be acquitted, but it is equally in the interests of society that those against whom true allegations are made should be convicted. I think that, in their consideration of this matter, the justices perhaps failed to pay proper regard to the undesirable consequence of refusing an adjournment when, as they claim they understood, the result would be that the prosecution would thereupon collapse.
"The fourth matter to which I pay attention is that the prosecution in this case were in no way at fault."
And at the conclusion of his judgment Bingham LJ refers again to that point. He said this:
"The justices, lacking the assistance given in the Swansea Justices case to which my Lord has referred, fell into error in failing to take full account of the fact that the prosecution were not the authors of their own misfortune."
"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 be 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. Any defendant who is guilty of deliberately seeking to postpone a trial without good reason has no cause for complaint if his application for an adjournment is refused: see, for example, Reg. v Macclesfield Justices, Ex parte Jones  R.T.R. 143. In deciding whether to grant an adjournment justices will bear in mind that they have a responsibility for ensuring, so far as possible, that summary justice is speedy justice. This is not a matter of mere administrative convenience, although efficient administration and economy are in themselves very desirable ends. Delays in bringing summary charges to trial are, unfortunately, not infrequent; last minute adjournments deprive other defendants of the opportunity of speedy trials when recollections are fresh. The difficulties adjournments cause give rise to a proper sense of frustration in justices confronted with frequent such applications: see Ex parte Rowles  R.T.R. 40, 45 E-F per Farquharson LJ. It is important that in those cases where this court is compelled to intervene, its ruling should not be seen to be inhibiting justices from refusing repeated application for adjournments where it is appropriate to do so."
"It has been said time and time again that delays in the administration of justice are a scandal, and they are the more scandalous when it is criminal proceedings with which a court is concerned."