Regina v Liverpool Stipendiary Magistrates ex parte Ellison: QBD 1990

References: [1990] RTR 220
Coram: Bingham LJ, Leggatt J
Ratio: Bingham LJ said: ‘If any criminal court at any time has cause to suspect that a prosecutor may be manipulating or using the procedures of the court in order to oppress or unfairly to prejudice a defendant before the court, I have no doubt that it is the duty of the court to inquire into the situation and ensure that its procedure is not being so abused. Usually no doubt such inquiry will be prompted by a complaint on the part of the defendant. But the duty of the court in my view exists even in the absence of a complaint.’
Leggatt J said: ‘Where a prosecutor applies to withdraw one charge and substitute another, which on the face of it is less serious, the magistrates’ court will ordinarily have no reason to object, and indeed no ground for doing so, provided that their powers of sentence remain sufficient. Here it is said that the stipendiary magistrate should have required the prosecutor to proceed on the charge of attempted theft instead of the charge of interfering with a motor vehicle, because the effect of the substitution was, as it is put, to deprive the defendant of his right to trial by jury. It is therefore said to have constituted an abuse of process, notwithstanding that the applicant was thereby rendered vulnerable to a less severe maximum punishment.
The key to the determination of this case appears to me to be that a defendant arraigned in a magistrates’ court has in truth no absolute right to trial by jury. Whether he has such a right depends on the charge which is preferred against him. Until the more serious charge . . was withdrawn the applicant enjoyed such a prospective right, but in relation to the less serious charge he did not. To speak of depriving the applicant of his right to trial by jury is . . only a pejorative way of making the point that upon reduction of the charge he ceased to be confronted by a charge sufficiently serious to warrant a right to trial by jury. In the absence of bad faith on the part of the prosecutor or of unfairness or prejudice to the accused, the prosecutor’s motive in making the substitution was irrelevant. The question is whether the substitution is in this sense a proper one.’
and ‘Whilst it is no doubt preferable that the charge ultimately made against a defendant should be correct in the first place that cannot always occur.’
Jurisdiction: England and Wales
This case is cited by:

  • Cited – Louca v A German Judicial Authority SC (Times 24-Nov-09, Bailii, [2009] UKSC 4, [2010] 1 All ER 402, [2009] 1 WLR 2550, Bailii Summary, UKSC 2009/0047, SC, SC Summary)
    The defendant resisted extradition saying that the European Arrest Warrant was defective in not revealing the existence of two earlier such warrants. He said that absence of such information would hinder a court which was concerned as to possible . .

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Last Update: 19 March 2019
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