I was recently instructed in a magistrates court pre-trial determination on the issue of whether purported admissions contained within the Preparation for Effective Trial (PET) form were admissions in accordance with Section 10 Criminal Justice Act (CJA) 1967.
The issue arose as the PET form has been completed by the Court at the first appearance during the height of the covid pandemic where parties attended over video link. Neither the CPS or defence advocate at the hearing had signed the form which was handwritten and endorsed by the Court.
To further complicate the matter, the defence had never received the PET form from the Court and did not recall any admissions being made at the hearing.
Section 10 CJA 1967 – Proof by formal admission
Section 10 (1) “…. any fact of which oral evidence may be given in any criminal proceedings may be admitted for the purpose of those proceedings…and the admission by any party…shall as against that party be conclusive evidence in those proceedings of the fact admitted.”
Sub-section 2 stipulates the requirements, when and how, the admissions can be made
(a) may be made before or at the proceedings;
(b) if made otherwise than in court, shall be in writing;
(c) if made in writing by an individual, shall purport to be signed by the person making it and, if so made by a body corporate, shall purport to be signed by a director or manager, or the secretary or clerk, or some other similar officer of the body corporate;
(d) if made on behalf of a defendant who is an individual, shall be made by his counsel or solicitor;
(e) if made at any stage before the trial by a defendant who is an individual, must be approved by his counsel or solicitor (whether at the time it was made or subsequently) before or at the proceedings in question.
Application to the case
In the present case, the admissions were purportedly made on behalf of the defendant, recorded in Section 9 of the PET form. Two issues arose with the format of the admissions.
(1) The questions on the form remained unanswered.
“Can any facts which are not in dispute be recorded in a written admission” there are two boxes, “yes” or “no” both were unchecked.
(2) The PET form was signed by the District Judge (DJ) who presided over the first appearance, and by them only.
The first issue was argued to demonstrate that the admission was not completed on the form. It was not clear whether or not the DJ at the time of completing the form had addressed the admissions with the parties. It may have been the case, as is common, that the DJ had intended to invite the parties to consider admissions that could be made, pre-empting this they may have written out admissions in the form and deliberately withheld from ticking the answer to the question until the parties had discussed the issue in the hearing. The court did not have a record of the hearing accurate enough to address this issue. The Crown’s note recorded the admissions as noted in the form but no more, such as who raised them etc.
The second issue focused on the words of the act specifically Sub-section (2)(d) “if made on behalf of a defendant who is an individual, shall be made by his counsel or solicitor”. It was argued that the form was never endorsed by the defendant’s representative and therefore was not compliant with the wording of the act. The defendant’s solicitors also had no note of the admissions being made and had not had sight of the PET form until the day of trial when the issue was raised and so were unaware of any purported admissions. The defendants’ solicitors could not have been expected to raise the issue sooner with the Crown and any obligation under the Criminal Procedure Rules did not supersede the requirements under the act.
The Court determined that the owing to the absence of information regarding the context in which the form was completed and the requirements under Section 10(2) of the act the content of Section 9 of the PET form did not amount to an admission in the proceedings.
Charles Hannaford is a junior tenant in chambers specialising in Crime and Family law Children Act matters.