HOTTAK v DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS (2016)
DC (Sharp LJ, Nicol J) 18/10/2016
A magistrates’ court had exercised its discretion reasonably in refusing to adjourn a trial, to exclude evidence, or to recuse itself, after an Achieving Best Evidence video had only been disclosed to the defendant on the day of the trial. The magistrates had taken steps to ensure that the defendant had time to consider the evidence, and they could be trusted to exclude from their deliberations any inadmissible material arising from the video.
The appellant appealed by way of case stated against several decisions taken by a magistrates’ court during his trial for common assault.
The appellant had been accused of assault in relation to a domestic altercation with his two sisters, who were aged 16 and 18. It was alleged that he had kicked the younger sister and pulled her hair, causing injuries, and bitten the older sister’s arm. They called the police and photos were taken of the injuries. The police conducted an Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interview with the younger sister. Its contents were summarised and a summary provided to the appellant. The younger sister later withdrew her allegations. The ABE video was only made available on the first day of the trial. The appellant applied to adjourn the trial, and for the video to be excluded from evidence because it could contain impermissible material. The magistrates refused both applications. The video was shown to all parties and the court, and the appellant was given an additional two hours to prepare. In the video, the sister discussed the appellant’s violent conduct over several years. The prosecution had not submitted a bad character evidence application. The appellant submitted that the magistrates should recuse themselves as they had heard impermissible evidence, and that the trial should be adjourned so that he could respond to the video evidence. His applications were refused, with the magistrates holding that they would not take into account any impermissible material and would not adjourn, in particular because the sister, a vulnerable 16-year-old witness, was present and waiting to give evidence. A second trial day took place a few weeks later. The appellant did not give evidence. He was found guilty and given a suspended sentence. The case stated questions were whether the magistrates had exercised their discretion reasonably in refusing (1) to exclude the ABE video as evidence; (2) the first application to adjourn the trial; (3) the application to recuse themselves; (4) the second application to adjourn.
HELD: (1) The magistrates had correctly exercised their discretion in each instance. The appellant’s submissions did not come close to undermining the judges’ discretion. They had been entitled to reach the decisions taken. Although the appellant should have been given the ABE video before the hearing, the magistrates had been capable of accommodating that fact during the trial. They took steps to ensure no unfairness arose for the appellant. No prejudice had arisen from the admission of the ABE video.
(2) The refusal to adjourn was reasonable on the facts of the case: the substance of the ABE video had already been disclosed via the summary, so there were no surprises for the appellant or reasons for adjournment. The only point made at the time was that the sister had spoken quickly in the video and no transcript was available, but the court was unimpressed by the proposition that the appellant had been unable to prepare a straightforward case in the two hours allowed by the magistrates after the video had been played.
(3) The matters relevant for adjournment by a magistrates’ court were those in Crown Prosecution Service v Picton  EWHC 1108 (Admin), (2006) 170 J.P. 567. The magistrates had been concerned about the sister, a vulnerable 16-year-old witness who was waiting to give evidence. They had considered both sides’ positions and had been entitled to decide that no adjournment was required, after properly considering all the factors, Picton applied.
(4) The argument that the magistrates should have recused themselves lacked merit. They could be trusted to decide the case on its merits and to exclude inadmissible material from consideration. Nothing in the ABE video was out of the ordinary. They had been entitled to proceed as they had done. Their decision was not unreasonable, and was correct on the facts.
Counsel: For the appellant: Tom Dunn: For the respondent: Ben Lloyd
LTL 18/10/2016 EXTEMPORE