Regina v Harper-Taylor and Bakker: CA 19 Feb 1988

There had been a prolonged discussion, ranging over a wide field in the judge’s room: ‘Since we regard the discussion in the judge’s room as the source of all the subsequent entanglements, some general observations on the practice of meeting the judge in his private room may be appropriate. A first principle of criminal law is that justice is done in public, for all to see and hear. By this standard a meeting in the judge’s room is anomalous: the essence, and indeed the purpose, being that neither the defendant nor the jury nor the public are there to hear what is going on. Undeniably, there are circumstances where the public must be excluded. Equally, the jury cannot always be kept in court throughout. The withdrawal of the proceedings into private, without even the defendant being there, is another matter. It is true, as this court stated in Turner that there must be freedom of access between counsel and the judge when there are matters calling for communications or discussions of such a nature that counsel cannot in the interests of his client mention them in open court. Criminal trials are so various that a list of situations where an approach to the judge is permissible would only mislead; but it must be clear that communications should never take place unless there is no alternative. ‘ and ‘Apart from the question of principle, seeing the judge in private creates risks of more than one kind, as the present case has shown. The need to solve an immediate practical problem may combine with the more relaxed atmosphere of the private room to blur the formal outlines of the trial. Again, if the object of withdrawing the case from open court is to maintain a degree of confidence, as it plainly must be, there is room for misunderstanding about how far the confidence is to extend; and, in particular, there is a risk that counsel and solicitors for the other parties may hear something said to the judge which they would rather not hear, putting them into a state of conflict between their duties to their clients, and their obligation to maintain the confidentiality of the private room.’ and ‘The absence of the defendant is also a potential source of trouble. He has to learn what the judge has said at second hand, and may afterwards complain (rightly or not) that he was not given an accurate account. Equally, he cannot hear what his counsel has said to the judge, and hence cannot intervene to correct a mis-statement or an excess of authority: a factor which may not only be a source of unfairness to the defendant, but which may also deprive the prosecution of the opportunity to contend that admissions made in open court in the presence of the client and not repudiated by him may be taken to have been made with his authority.’
Mustill LJ
Unreported, 19 February 1988
England and Wales
CitedRegina v Turner CACD 1970
The court considered an appeal where the defendant had entered a plea of guilty but had felt himself under undue pressure from the judge.
Held: The court urged caution in the practice of counsel seeing the judge in his chambers, though . .

Cited by:
CitedLobban, Regina v CACD 7-May-2004
The defendant appealed his conviction. A witness statement had been read, but he had wanted to cross examine her. The court was satisfied that her refusal to give evidence in person was through fear.
Held: In making the decision, the judge had . .

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Updated: 02 June 2021; Ref: scu.199780