Regina v Newham Juvenile Court ex parte F (A Minor): QBD 1986

F who was 16 years old when he appeared before the juvenile court charged with robbery and possession of an imitation firearm. The justices decided to proceed summarily. No plea was taken. After being released on bail, he later appeared before a different bench, facing additional charges. The justices purported to reverse the previous decision. They committed the applicant to the Crown Court for trial in respect of the original charges.
Held: The second decision was quashed. Once a properly constituted bench of justices had considered all the factors placed before the court that were relevant to the exercise of their discretion under section 24 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 and ordered summary trial, a differently constituted bench of justices had no power to re-examine that decision on the same facts.
Stephen Brown LJ said: ‘Unfortunately, the justices, as is clear from their affidavits, did not take into account any additional circumstances nor, it would seem, any additional facts beyond those which had been placed before the justices on 20 September. In those circumstances the question has to be asked: were they at liberty to review and reverse a decision which had been formally taken and announced by a properly constituted bench of justices having the power and duty to make the inquiry under section 24(1)? There is an apparent anomaly if they do not have such power, because section 25 provides that where a court has begun to try an information summarily it can, if it takes the view that it should not continue to try the case summarily, continue the hearing as examining justices with a view to committal for trial. It may therefore seem anomalous that they cannot change their minds before actually embarking on a summary trial.
Justices like every other court, must of course exercise such discretion as they have judicially, but this is not merely a matter of discretion; it is a matter of power. Have they got power to reverse a decision taken by their colleagues at an earlier hearing? In my judgment the whole scheme of the Act suggests that they do not have that power before embarking upon the hearing. Once a decision has been made after proper inquiry and consideration of all relevant factors, it cannot be reversed merely by re- examining the case afresh on the same material.
It seems to me that they may well have had the opportunity for taking a different view from that taken by their colleagues in the light of the new and additional factors which had emerged since 20 September. For example, not only was it alleged that a further serious offence had been committed whilst the applicant was on bail, and with which the justices had to deal quite separately, but in addition a great deal more information was before them as to the character of the applicant. They now knew that a number of other offences were alleged to have been committed by him from May onwards. Those were matters which were not before the justices who had sat on 20 September, so there was in my judgment material upon which it could be argued that it would be proper for the justices to review the question as to mode of trial.
As I have said, that was not in fact the way in which these justices proceeded. Their affidavits are very frank and clear about that matter. It seems to me that this was simply a different view formed upon the same facts by a differently constituted bench. In my judgment in the result they did exceed their powers. Prima facie therefore that decision should be quashed and also the decision to commit for trial.’
McCullough J said: ‘a decision under section 24(1) of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 is not irrevocable. However, once such a decision has been taken and announced, it will in the great majority of cases stand. But in a case where trial on indictment has been decided upon, it is in my opinion open to the justices to review that decision at any stage up to the start of their inquiry as examining justices. Such a review will be permissible if a change of circumstances has occurred since the original decision was taken and also if circumstances are brought to the attention of the court which, although existing when the original decision was taken, were not then drawn to the attention of the court. I am thinking, for example, of a case where justices are told on a later occasion that the facts of the charge were less serious than the court was originally led to believe, or where the court learns facts about the defendant’s background, character, and antecedents, which indicate that if he is found guilty there will be no need after all for it to be possible to sentence him in pursuance of section 53(2) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
Similarly, in a case where summary trial has been decided upon, it is in my opinion open to the justices to review that decision at any stage up to the beginning of the summary trial. Such a review is permissible if a change of circumstances has occurred since the original decision was taken and also if circumstances are brought to the attention of the court which, although existing when the original decision was taken, were not then drawn to the attention of the court . . Put more shortly, at any stage before the tracks divide, the decision as to which track is to be pursued is open to revision upon the demonstration of what may shortly be called a change of circumstances. I see nothing in section 24(1)(a) to prevent this. On the contrary, I take it to have been the intention of Parliament that the decision should be taken on the fullest information available to the court immediately before the tracks divide. Any other construction may lead to injustice.’
References: [1986] 1 WLR 939, [1986] 3 All ER 17, [1986] Crim LR 557, (1986) 84 Cr App R 81
Judges: Stephen Brown LJ, McCullough J
Statutes: Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 24(1)
Jurisdiction: England and Wales
This case is cited by:

  • Cited – Regina v Stamford Magistrates ex parte Director of Public Prosecutions Admn 31-Jul-1997
    A challenge was made as to whether the magistrates had jurisdiction in an allegation of burglary, or whethe the case should have been comitted to the Crown Court. . .
    (, [1997] EWHC Admin 760)
  • Cited – Jones v South East Surrey Local Justice Area Admn 12-Mar-2010
    jones_sesjaAdmn10
    The defendant sought judicial review of a decision of the magistrates to adjourn a case where, on the day before, a differently constitued bench had refused an adjournment requested by the prosecution. On the first occasion the prosecutor had not . .
    (, [2010] EWHC 916 (Admin), (2010) 174 JP 342)

These lists may be incomplete.
Last Update: 27 November 2020; Ref: scu.224836