QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
THE ADMINISTRATIVE COURT
B e f o r e :
|THE QUEEN ON THE APPLICATION OF DAVID PRICE||(CLAIMANT)|
|SOUTHERN DERBYSHIRE MAGISTRATES' COURT||(DEFENDANT)|
|THE CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE||(INTERESTED PARTY)|
Smith Bernal Wordwave Limited
190 Fleet Street London EC4A 2AG
Tel No: 020 7404 1400 Fax No: 020 7831 8838
(Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
MR DAVID RICHARDS (instructed by the Crown Prosecution Service) appeared on behalf of the INTERESTED PARTY
Crown Copyright ©
"I had seen Mr Price on 19th April when he was suffering from anxiety, poor sleep and panic attacks and medication had been commenced with a view to relieving both anxiety and depression, although Mr Price is aware that this medication is likely to take 3 to 4 weeks to take effect."
And that doctor indicated that the certificate issued on 22th April indicated that he might be incapable of work for 6 months but the inability to attend court related only to a short period on and around 22nd April. But it is true to say that the doctor went on to accept, and indeed to assert, that a claim of stress, even confirmed and endorsed by a medical practitioner, could not be allowed to stop the legal process, because any one charged with an offence would suffer stress, its seriousness depending, of course, on the nature of the charge. He concluded:
"It may be possible for you to consider giving Mr Price the benefit of a further hearing in a few weeks time when hopefully his condition has improved but this would be an act of some generosity and the bottom line is that there is no medical reason in this case for the legal process not to run its course."
"The District Judge had had the conduct of this case from the moment that summonses were issued. His extensive knowledge of the case allowed him to take the view that he was able to balance Dr Ruddles's opinion as to the claimant's ability to attend court, against his detailed knowledge of the claimant's abilities to conduct the several proceedings. As mentioned above, this had included the claimant negotiating an oral hearing of his claim for judicial review, which was listed on the 15th April 2005 and presumably which the claimant intended to attend. In the event, it appears that the claimant advised the High Court that he could not attend due to ill health. It appears that his oral hearing was not adjourned on the 15th April but despite the order at Exhibit No.22 stating that he appeared, the application may in fact have been dealt with in the claimant's absence and his application to stay the trial refused."
"Subject to the provisions of this Act, where at the time and place appointed for the trial or adjourned trial of an information the prosecutor appears but the accused does not, the court may proceed in his absence."
McCullough J, at page 616C said this:
"Plainly applications to adjourn will be necessitated when there are genuine reasons for an accused being unable to attend court. Equally plainly there will be occasions when unmeritorious applications are made on behalf of defendants who are in fact fit to attend court but have chosen not to do so. The circumstances in which such applications are made will vary widely and, for my part, I would find it impossibly difficult to try to lay down, other than in the most general terms, the principles upon which justices should act. I will say no more than this. The discretion should be exercised judicially. It should be exercised with proper regard to the principle that a defendant is entitled to a fair trial; this must include a fair opportunity to be present to hear the evidence given against him and, should he want to do so, to give evidence in his own defence and call witnesses."
Then at G he said this:
"Inevitably, there will be occasions when the justices are not satisfied with the document and may want to hear more. [That is a reference to a medical certificate.] They may want somebody to get in touch with the doctor; they may even want to hear the doctor give evidence before them. I am not attempting to lay down any principles. In many cases it may be that the sensible course it to adjourn for long enough for a telephone call to be made to the doctor by a court official or perhaps a police officer and that this will provide confirmation that the accused is indeed unfit to attend. If the justices should, after such an adjournment, still not be satisfied it may be the only reasonable thing to do will be to adjourn again to enable some further approach to be made. It will always be necessary to bear in mind that it is a serious step to proceed with a man's trial for an allegation of a criminal offence in his absence."
In fact, in one of those cases, there had been, I think, two adjournments at least on the basis of alleged unfitness.
"'I am in receipt of your doctor's letter relating to your ill health. It has come to my attention that, during the currency of the medical certificate which you have used to excuse non-attendance at this court, you have been attending Feltham magistrates' court in order to prosecute other proceedings. I am therefore not prepared to adjourn the trial. If you do not attend the medical report will be placed before the court as will extracts from the court registers from Feltham magistrates' court. The magistrates will have the power to issue a warrant for your arrest or try the case in your absence if you choose not to attend the hearing..."
The response was to send a further letter from the doctor's partner saying that the defendant was anxious and depressed and was still not fit to attend court. In fact, on the day in question he sent along a so-called McKenzie Friend with another bundle of documents which he prepared in order to found a submission of abuse of process but the court was not inclined to accept, in the circumstances, that the claimant was indeed suffering such ill health as prevented him attending. Effectively it was decided to proceed with the trial to avoid the proceedings being pursued.
"It is apparent ... that the court was not laying down any hard and fast rules for justices faced with this situation to follow. The question in this case is whether, in all the circumstances, the justices were justified in rejecting the medical basis for the case to be further adjourned. In doing so were they acting unfairly to this applicant?"
And he made the point that a fair opportunity is not an unlimited opportunity because otherwise it would never be possible to proceed in a defendant's absence and, on the facts, the court took the view that the justices had been entitled to decide as they did. As a postscript, it was noted that once the defendant had apparently got wind of what has happened, appreciating that a warrant was out for his arrest, he had attended at 2 o'clock and was able to make cogent submissions and to suggest that the matter could then be re-heard, which was rather confirmatory of what the justices had decided.