Letter to all contracted Defence Practitioners Circulated by the Legal Aid Agency- LAA

  • 04/11/2021

Re: The continued recovery of trial delays in Greater Manchester.

Further to the letter from Keith Townend Head Of Legal Operations for the North West, circulated by the LAA, which outlined the Magistrates Courts recovery planning across the North- West region I can confirm that the North West Courts Hearing Working Group [MCHWG] continues to look for different ways to support the Judicial 5-point recovery plan issued in April 2021.

I am writing to you to update you in relation to the proposals for the trial recovery in Greater Manchester in pursuance of the 5-point plan which includes a focus on trial activity to reduce trial waiting times through trial blitzes.

Pending a future decision on whether to hold a trial blitz in Greater Manchester multiagency work is ongoing to embed an enhanced engagement under the Criminal Procedure Rules. This engagement is to take place between parties and the court post the first hearing and prior to the scheduled trial date.

The aim of the enhanced engagement process is to:

  • effectively manage the review of cases listed for trial, a duty placed on all parties in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Rules, and
  • to triage trial work, resolving cases early where this is possible and identifying cases that would benefit from a case management hearing.
  • To encourage defence to utilise the early pre-sentence report initiative on cases where a satisfactory resolution is reached.

The process includes:

  • CPS review of trial cases, obtain any outstanding material from the police and provide defence with full disclosure
  • Defence review their current cases with a view to advising CPS of any issues that remain outstanding
  • Defence and CPS undertake engagement sessions with each other to make progress on the cases listed for trial. This will allow open discussion to take place regarding the cases. CPS and defence will consider any possible conclusion to
    the case before it reaches the trial date.
  • Defence actively obtain instructions from the defendant at an early stage
  • Any basis of pleas will be put in writing for CPS consideration.
  • HMCTS will actively remain involved the case management of the cases to ensure that both defence and CPS comply with directions set in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Rules.
  • In cases where there is going to be a change of plea/ acceptable pleas will be communicated to HMCTS and the trial vacated. In cases where the parties are not able to partake in satisfactory engagement before the trial date the case will be listed before a District Judge for a case management hearing [CMH] so that progress can be made The District Judges will oversee the engagement and conduct the dedicated CMH courts scheduled over the next six months.

Your participation in this approach is key and we are grateful to Clare Parrott from Tuckers for engaging with the parties in the planning stages of this process. The benefits for Defendants will include the ability to have the case dealt with either at the CMH or at the trial date when evidential/procedural issues have been clarified at the CMH.

The benefits to victims and witnesses will also be similar in that there will be a timely resolution of the matter or the trial will be effective at the scheduled trial date. This will help improve victim and witness confidence as well as reducing the strain on the witness services.

It is also hoped that effective trial rates and trial listing delays will improve as we ensure that trial slots are not wasted and cases capable of resolution are taken from the trial list and replaced with viable trials.

Your feedback is very welcome and if you have any views on how the process may be improved please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you in anticipation,

Yours sincerely

Jackie Lowe
Senior Legal Manager (Crime)
Greater Manchester