Regulatory and criminal prosecution is an essential function of local authorities and government agencies. In these straitened times, using court time effectively and with maximum efficiency is essential. Hill Dickinson partner Simon Parrington has prosecuted, as solicitor agent, for many such authorities for more than 30 years and in that time has been involved in some very high profile cases as a prosecutor both in the Magistrates and Crown courts. Here, he shares his top 10 tips for local authority prosecutors.
My top 10 tips are borne out of my experience in both the criminal and civil courts. They may seem obvious – in fact, they are (!) - but you would be surprised at how often simple things are missed. Failures in drafting or preparation, in compliance with court orders and directions or the civil procedure rules will not do. As prosecutors, we must make sure that we ‘get it right’ each time.
- Communicate with the lead prosecutor: if the case is complex or involves many witnesses, make sure that you see the lead investigator in advance of laying informations. Remember that you must comply with the two stage test laid down in the Code for Crown prosecutors (recently amended). Ensure that your evidence is up to scratch. If it is not, ask the investigator to deal with those matters which you consider need attention.
- Drafting the information: having been provided with a complete case, draft the information accurately. Be aware of the provisions of the offence that you wish to prove, of any statutory defences available to a defendant and of the penalty on conviction (on conviction you may be asked for assistance with the penalty and sentencing guidelines by the court). Do not forget to apply for an AS number and details of previous convictions and/or conduct that might be relevant to a bad character application.
- Evidence – be prepared! prepare the bundle of evidence early. When serving the summons, you should also be prepared to serve the evidence upon which you intend to rely. If you do not prepare early, you may be caught out and that could lead to an adverse costs order.
- Expert management: if your case involves expert evidence, make sure that your expert report is in proper form, that it complies with CPR33 and that exhibits are properly exhibited by the expert (I find too often that experts have not been told what is required of them). The expert is there to assist the court, but if you do not ensure that he or she complies with the rules, that evidence may not be admissible and you may be prevented from adducing it.
- Know your witnesses: where are they? Do you have contact details for them? Cases may take many months to reach trial and a witness proofed a year or more before may have moved address, changed telephone number or disappeared. Keep tabs on the witnesses and keep them informed of progress. Warn them of court dates well in advance and manage them properly, with courtesy.
- Effective case summary: when you draft your case summary make sure that you provide sufficient information so that the opponent knows what your case is. A poorly presented summary is far less likely to lead to efficient disposal of the case. Tell the story in your summary, deal with issues of fact and law and summarise your case against the defendant.
- Neat bundles: make sure that you prepare a proper bundle for trial which has been paginated and indexed. Nothing annoys judges and magistrates more than a poorly presented bundle.
- Basis of plea: if the defendant is to plead guilty then, in cases of any complexity, the defendant’s representative should be required to provide a basis of plea in writing. You need to know what is agreed and what is not agreed. You may not agree the basis upon which the defendant is prepared to plead, in which case you should say why and be prepared to justify it before the court. It is for the judge or magistrate(s) to decide whether a Newton hearing is required, but you have an important role to play in that decision.
- Trial: prepare thoroughly. Know which witnesses you will call and the order in which you will call them. Control your witnesses on the day and thank them for their attendance afterwards.
- Costs: do not forget to ask for them! Ensure that you have prepared a complete schedule of costs to include your time, the investigator’s time and any advocate or expert’s time.
Overall, remember that a well prepared case should result in a good outcome - a poorly prepared case will lead to embarrassment and adverse costs orders.