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Criminal Procedure Rules


The Criminal Procedure Rules (CrimPR) govern the practice and procedure of the criminal courts. The body responsible for making the rules is the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee (CPRC). The Committee consists of 18 members, which includes the DPP and is chaired by the Lord Chief Justice.

The CrimPR are divided into ten sections that correspond with the main stages of a criminal case. They lay down an overriding objective that courts and everyone involved in a criminal case must pursue: to deal with cases justly. They also give courts explicit powers to actively manage the preparation of criminal cases to prevent unfair and avoidable delays and to promote certainty about what is happening for the benefit of everyone involved.

The CrimPR are supplemented by the Criminal Practice Direction 2013 (CPD), which contain the case progression forms and all other prescribed forms which the rules require should be used.

The CrimPR 2010 and the CPD 2013 can be found on the Ministry of Justice web site .

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The Criminal Procedure Rules

The Rules are arranged in 10 principal subject divisions that correspond with the main stages of a criminal cases making up a total of 76 separate Parts.

  • Parts 1-5 cover general matters. The rules in this division include those covering the overriding objective and case management. 
  • Parts 6-17 cover preliminary proceedings.
  • Parts 18-20 cover custody and bail.
  • Parts 21-26 cover disclosure of evidence and unused material.
  • Parts 27-36 cover evidence including hearsay, bad character and special measures.
  • Parts 37-41 cover the trial.
  • Parts 42-55 cover sentencing.
  • Parts 56-61 cover confiscation and related proceedings.
  • Part 62 covers contempt of court.
  • Parts 63-75 cover appeals in the magistrates court, the Crown Court and the Court of Appeal.
  • Part 76 covers costs.

The CPRC amends existing rules and adds new rules twice a year, which usually come into force each April and October. Guidance in the form of Gateway Notices is given on the main changes. From October 2011 the rules will be consolidated at annual intervals, incorporating any amendments made during the preceding year.

The overriding objective

Part 1 contains the overriding objective which is dealing with cases justly. This includes acquitting the innocent and convicting the guilty; recognising the rights of the defendant; respecting the interests of witnesses, victims and jurors and keeping them informed of the progress of the case; and dealing with the case efficiently and expeditiously.

The overriding objective acknowledges that the presumption of innocence and a robust adversarial process are essential features to our legal system. Such rights are guaranteed by Human Rights Act 1988. But it is no part of a fair trial that questions of guilt or innocence should be determined by procedural manoeuvres, or to take an unfair advantage of a mistake by someone else see R (DPP) v Chorley Justices [2006] EWHC 1795. Fairness is best served when the issues between the parties are identified as early as possible and the overriding objective promotes this.

All participants have a duty to deal with cases justly. A participant is anyone involved in any way with a criminal case (Part 1.2(2)). This includes not only the parties e.g. the CPS but also the police, the court staff and even judges.

All the rules set out in the CrimPR are subject to the overriding objective.

Case management rules

Part 3 gives courts explicit powers to manage the progression of criminal cases. In the cases of Chaaban [2003] EWCA Crim 1012 and Jisl [2004] EWCA Crim 696, the Court of Appeal held that courts have a duty to manage criminal cases effectively. Part 3 gives them the framework of powers they need to fulfil that duty.

Part 3 provides that the court must actively manage the case. The court must do this by giving directions appropriate to the needs of the case. The parties must actively assist the court in managing cases without or if necessary with a direction. Active case management (Rule 3.2(2)) includes:

  1. the early identification of the real issues;
  2. the early identification of the needs of witnesses;
  3. achieving certainty as to what must be done, by whom, and when, in particular by the early setting of a timetable for the progress of the case;
  4. monitoring the progress of the case and compliance with directions;
  5. ensuring that evidence, whether disputed or not, is presented in the shortest and clearest way;
  6. discouraging delay, dealing with as many aspects of the case as possible on the same occasion, and avoiding unnecessary hearings;
  7. encouraging the participants to co-operate in the progression of the case; and
  8. making use of technology.

As to the obligation of the defence to identify the real issues in the case see Malcolm v DPP [2007] 2 Cr. App. R.1

Rule 3.4 places a duty on each party to a case (including the court) to appoint a named individual as a case progression officer and to tell the other parties and the court who that is and how to contact them. Their duties will be to:

  • Monitor compliance with directions;
  • Keep the court informed of events that may affect the progress of a case;
  • Act promptly and reasonably in response to communications about a case; and
  • Make sure they can be contacted promptly during ordinary business hours (and appoint a substitute if not).

The Crown Court case progression officer will expect to:

  • be in communication with all parties regarding compliance with judicial orders and directions made at the Plea and Case Management Hearing (PCMH);
  • be able to confirm to the court that all witnesses have been contacted and are available;
  • receive a trial readiness statement from all parties; and
  • under the direction of the judge, arrange the listing of any case in advance of the trial date, where there are problems which may delay the case.

Rule 3.5 states that the court may give any direction and take any step to actively manage a case unless it would be inconsistent with legislation including the rules. Rule 3.5(2) sets out the circumstances the court may take to manage a case such as giving directions or fixing or postponing or adjourning a hearing. Rule 3.5(6) provides sanctions (i.e. costs or another sanction) available to the court where a party fails to comply with a rule or direction.

Rule 3.6 provides that a party may apply to vary a direction as soon as practicable and to give as much notice to the other party as the nature and urgency of the application permits. The emphasis will be on parties making applications and the court varying a direction without having a hearing so as to reduce the number of inappropriate court appearances.

Rule 3.7 provides that the parties may agree to vary a time limit fixed by a direction where specific conditions are fulfilled.

Rule 3.8 provides the court with a duty to progress the case at every hearing to a conclusion at the next hearing or as soon as possible after that. Rule 3.8(2) sets out what the court must do at every hearing to progress the case where relevant. Rule 3.8(3) provides that the court must conduct a PCMH unless the circumstances make it unnecessary.

Rule 3.9 is concerned with a party's readiness for trial and the court ensuring that a party is ready for trial. The court has discretion whether to order a party to give a certificate of readiness.

Rule 3.10 states that the court may also require a party to identify witness issues; points of law; evidence or issues of presentation; and setting a timetable in order to manage the trial or an appeal.

Rule 3.11 provides that forms set out in the CPD must be used and the court must provide a record of directions given in a case. In addition Part 5 of the CrimPR provides that the forms set out in the CPD shall be used as appropriate in connection with the rules to which they apply.

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Criminal Practice Directions 2013

The Criminal Practice Directions 2013 (CPD) supplement the Rules in Part 3 of the Criminal Procedure Rules 2013 (CPR).

Case management in the Crown Court

Paragraph IV.41 of the CPD provides the case detail forms which are set out at Annex E to be completed in all cases tried on indictment. These include forms for cases sent, committed or transferred for trial and the Plea and Case Management Hearing form (PCMH).

Cases sent for trial

The case progression form is at Annex E. A preliminary hearing (PH) is not required in every sent case. A PH should be ordered by the magistrates' court or the Crown Court only where:

  1. there are case management issues which call for such a hearing;
  2. the case is likely to last for more than 4 weeks;
  3. it would be desirable to set an early trial date;
  4. the defendant is a child or young person;
  5. it seems to the court that it is a case suitable for a preparatory hearing in the Crown Court (see sections 7 and 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1987 and sections 29 - 32 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996).

A PH, if there is one, should be held about 14 days after sending.

Where the magistrates' court does not order a PH it should order a PCMH to be held within about 14 weeks after sending for trial where a defendant is in custody and within about 17 weeks after sending for trial where a defendant is on bail. Those periods accommodate the periods fixed by the relevant rules for the service of the prosecution case file and for making all potential preparatory applications.

Where the parties realistically expect to have completed their preparation for the PCMH in less time than that then the magistrates' court should order it to be held earlier. But it will not normally be appropriate to order that the PCMH be held on a date before the expiry of at least 4 weeks from the date on which the prosecutor expects to serve the prosecution case papers, to allow the defence a proper opportunity to consider them.

To order that a PCMH be held before the parties have had a reasonable opportunity to complete their preparation in accordance with the CrimPR risks compromising the effectiveness of this most important pre-trial hearing and risks wasting their time and that of the court.

The Attorney General's Crime and Disorder Act 1999 (Service of Prosecution Evidence) Regulations 2000 set out the default period for the service of copies of the documents containing the evidence and a draft indictment which is:

  • within 50 days of the date of sending where a defendant is in custody; and
  • within 70 days of sending in other cases.

The magistrates' court has no power to enlarge this period - only a Crown Court judge can do so under the provisions of Paragraph 1 of Schedule 3 to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The default period for the preferment of the indictment is within 28 days of the service of papers.

If it is likely to take longer than 50 days to prepare the case file, the case would be an appropriate one for a Preliminary Hearing (see above) - that there are case management issues which call for such a hearing. But it should be borne in mind that the clock for 50 days would continue to tick in the event that any application for an extension of time is refused.

The case progression directions made by the magistrates, together with the increased cooperation and communication between the parties should ensure that a case is properly ready for an effective PCMH. The directions set out in Section 2 of the form, to be made by the magistrates include the following:

  • the prosecution to comply with its initial duty of disclosure within 14 days from the date of sending in sent cases;
  • the prosecution to serve any application for special measures within 28 days of the date of committal/transfer or service of papers;
  • the prosecution to serve notice of any intention to introduce hearsay evidence within 14days of compliance with its initial duty of disclosure;
  • the prosecution to serve any notice to introduce the defendant's bad character within 14 days of committal/transfer or service of papers.

The directions set out in Section 2 are default directions, which will apply unless a contrary order is made. The magistrates have power to vary the time limits in the default directions Rule 3.5. Once the orders have been made however, only the Crown Court can vary them.

If the Defendant intends to plead guilty, the magistrates' court should make appropriate orders so that he can be sentenced at the Preliminary Hearing if possible.

Cases committed for trial or transferred.

The case progression form for committals and transfers together with guidance notes are at Annex E. There should be a PCMH in every case to be held within about 7 weeks after committal/transfer.

Plea and case management hearing

The effectiveness of a PCMH hearing in a contested case depends in large measure upon preparation by all concerned and upon the presence of the trial advocate or an advocate who is able to make decisions and give the court the assistance which the trial advocate could be expected to give. Resident Judges in setting the listing policy should ensure that list officers fix cases as far as possible to enable the trial advocate to conduct the PCMH and the trial.

The PCMH form as set out in Annex E must be used in accordance with the guidance notes.

Additional pre-trial hearings should be held only if needed for some compelling reason. Such hearings - often described informally as 'mentions' - are expensive and should actively be discouraged. Where necessary the power to give, vary or revoke a direction without a hearing should be used.

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Case management in magistrates' court

Paragraph V.56 of the CCPD provides for case progression forms to be used in the magistrates' court. The Magistrates' Court Trial Preparation Form as a general rule should be used in any case to be tried in a magistrates court in which a not guilty plea is entered. However, as indicated above, its use in each case is in the discretion of the court. Where the court is in possession of all the relevant information, and is satisfied that the issues in the case, and the arrangements required for trial in consequence, are so straightforward as to require few directions: then the court may decide to dispense with the form. In any other case, the form provides at the least an aide memoire of the matters that the experience of many courts demonstrates may need to be considered, and it should be used.should be used for all not guilty cases This form together with guidance notes can be found at Annex E of the CCPD.

Statements made at pre-trial hearings, including those recorded in the case progression forms such as the trial preparation form, are admissible in evidence see R (on the application of Firth) v Epping Magistrates' Court [2011] EWHC 388 (Admin)

However, prosecutors should note that an application to admit assertions recorded on the form should only be made when necessary and appropriate e.g. where the defence are not acting in the spirit of the Criminal Procedure Rules in seeking to ambush the prosecution or raising late and technical defences that were not previously raised as issues. Prosecutors should encourage the court to actively manage cases, including directing full engagement of the parties in the process. Comprehensive file endorsements should record whether the assertions were made orally or in writing, and whether the defendant was present or raised any objection. A copy of any completed case management forms should be retained on the prosecution file. The current form distinguishes between matters in issue and admissions of fact, unlike the previous form used in Firth. This should address concerns that engagement in case management could be adverse to the defendant's interests.

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