Edmund Walters discusses a recent case in which he successfully appeared in the Divisional Court on a point concerning the laying of informations and doing so before the six-month time limit expires.
The case of Begum & Begum v Luton Borough Council  EWHC 1044 (Admin) (Appeal by way of case stated in Divisional Court) has decided an important legal point about the six-month time limit for laying informations in the magistrates’ court under section 127(1) of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 (“MCA 1980”) and the Criminal Procedure Rule 2015 (“Crim PR 2015”).
This case has practical implications for prosecution authorities and magistrates’ courts, when considering the method and the date for the laying of informations for summary-only offences in the magistrates’ court, under section 127(1) of the MCA 1980. In addition, the case illustrates how all defendants and their representatives should be careful to ascertain precisely how and when the prosecution have laid informations in magistrates’ courts and which provisions of the Crim PR 2015 are applicable to the method and date of service (or laying), particularly when this has been left by the prosecution close to the end of the limitation period.
In this case, the Appellants each faced 20 informations for alleged summary offences under the Housing Act 2004 (“HA 2004”).
An officer of the London Borough of Luton had delivered the informations and draft summonses by hand in an envelope to a security officer at Luton Magistrates’ Court on 02.12.16, which was within the six month time limit.
However, the informations and draft summonses were not placed before the administrative staff of HMCTS until 05.12.16 when they were received, opened and date stamped by HMCTS administrative staff, which was outside the six month time limit.
The appeal was by way of case stated from District Judge Dodds, sitting at Milton Keynes Magistrates Court on June 2017, who had ruled on a preliminary issue that the informations were laid in time, since the security guard had implied authority to accept the service (or laying) of the informations. The District Judge had set the case down for trial following his ruling.
The appeal by way of case stated was made before the trial.
The Appellants successfully applied to the High Court for an interim stay of the trial, pending the outcome of the appeal.
In the case stated, there were two related questions:
(1) was a sub-contracted court security guard was a court officer with implied authority to accept the informations, within rule 4.3(1)(e) of the Crim PR 2015 ? and;
(2) were the informations laid in time?
The Divisional Court answered “No” to both these questions. In his judgment, Lord Justice Gross made the following points in summary, amongst others:
- The laying of an information is a critical jurisdictional step.
- Involving court security guards (or officers) in the process of service for the purposes of rule 4.3(1)(e) of the Crim PR 2015 would be a significant additional responsibility, not, on the evidence, presently within their contracts of employment; or the terms of the HMCTS/MoJ arrangements with MITIE (or other contractors); or mentioned in the document on the HMCTS intranet referred to in the HMCTS memorandum, which provided on request to assist the Divisional Court in this case.
- Rule 4.3 of the Crim PR 2015 gives effect to the House of Lords Authority of Ex parte Hill  1 AC 328: the information may be handed over to a court officer; they need not be handed over to a justice’s clerk personally. But, for rule 4.3(1)(e) to apply, they must be handed over to “a court officer with authority to accept it”. If they are, the date of service is the date it is handed over.
- There is no difficulty with an information being left with a court security guard. However, service then takes effect in accordance with rule 4.4, with the relevant date consequences provided by rule 4.11. A document left at court will be served on the next business day (rule 4.11(2)(a)).
- The Divisional Court was unable to go further and accept that a court security guard has the necessary authority for the purpose of accepting an information, so as to result in same day service under rule 4.3(1).
- The Divisional Court was not persuaded that a security guard is “the appropriate member of the staff of the court” for the purposes of rule 4.3(1).
- The service of originating process has jurisdictional consequences and these do not fall naturally within the sphere of a security guard.
- Had the informations been handed to the security guard on the previous day, they would have been laid in time.
- Further, the Prosecution could have effected last minute service on 02.12.16 2 December 2016 by emailing the informations to the Court before 14.30 hours.
- The practicalities of the matter did not require the implication of authority under rule 4(3)(1) of the Crim PR 2015, for which the Respondent contended and the District Judge found.
- The leaving of the laying of information until the very last day is fraught with risk.
- The HMCTS may wish to consider reviewing their contractual arrangements, so as to consider conferring on security guards express authority to accept informations for the purposes of rule 4(3)(1). Any such review would also, no doubt, encompass compliance with such requirements of the Courts Act 2003 as may be applicable.
- On any view, the issue which has arisen in this case should be addressed together with the Senior Presiding Judge.
Edmund Walters is a barrister 42 Bedford Row. He can be contacted by email. Edmund appeared for one of the appellants in this case.