The Tuesday Truth
PTPH -or Please Try Preparing Harder
by Kerry Hudson
The new BCM procedures promised to deliver efficiency benefits for all lawyers; less paper and fewer hearings. But is the reality that the Defence is getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop?
The previous regime
Under the old Crown Court regime other than sorting urgent bail applications where appropriate, there was little to do at the start of a case until after the preliminary directions one/two weeks later. Case preparation proper started after receipt of full papers usually 6 weeks from the Preliminary Hearing. There was enough time to get legal aid sorted, think about and get on board an appropriate Advocate and arrange and attend prison visits.
The new regime
The Crown has a maximum of 21 days from sending to serve a draft Indictment, “papers” and part completed PTPH form.These must now be sent no less than 7 days before the PTPH at day 28. In practice, the Crown are taking this literally and waiting until the 21st day to send material. This puts immense pressure on the defence as we have a 7 day window and in reality 5 days if the CPS serves at 5pm on the 21st day and discounting the weekend. Within this tiny window, we are expected to have an Advocate instructed, take full instructions from our client and get the PTPH form completed.
Securing a prison visit for those on remand within this short time frame is proving difficult. Some prisons have waiting lists of anything up to three weeks. This is not helped by individual prison booking practices prohibiting bookings being made more than 7 days in advance, the lack of availability of Article 6 compliant private rooms for sensitive cases (Thameside! I am referring to you) and the ongoing saga over the admission of laptops.
A level playing field?
It seems ludicrous that the Crown has 21 days to effectively re-send us the same IDPC bundle, a draft Indictment and their half of the PTPH form, yet we have only 7 days to maintain our end of the bargain. In practice, it would appear the Crown is not really doing much in that 21 day period – they are just re-sending handwritten statements (not typed ones), often no formal statement/exhibit pagination (causing potential billing issues) and no CCTV. Then at the PTPH, a stage 1 direction is made for full service of papers anyway. This seems to have led to the misunderstanding by some CPS employees that we don’t get the papers until the Judge has made the direction!
The Squeeze on the Defence
In reality, the time frames for the CPS are now longer, and the defence is getting squeezed:
CPS Old regime – 7 (or 14) days from sending to Prelim then direction to serve full papers within 6 wks = 7 or 8 weeks in total
New regime – 21 days from sending to requirement to serve “papers” (same IDPC bundle in practice!) then stage 1 direction at PTPH to serve within 6 weeks = 9 weeks total
Defence old regime – Prelim after 7 (or 14) days and then 7-8 weeks to PCMH (?) – so 8 weeks total (at least!) before pleas required.
Defence New regime – 28 days to PTPH from sending – so 4 weeks before pleas required (regardless if in custody or not)
In a nutshell, the reality is that the changes have punished the Defence and given the Crown even more scope to delay things. Hardly equality of arms in action. Surely if a not guilty indication has been given at the first Magistrates Court hearing, the Crown should start properly preparing their fully paginated trial papers from that point on and not start after the PTPH needing an additional 6 weeks? The playing field is tilting ever more in the Crown’s favour. What is the CPS doing with this extra time other than serving us with another copy of the original IDPC bundle, a draft Indictment and a half completed PTPH form? The CPS is clearly not getting statements and ROTI’s typed, chasing the police for ABE’s and CCTV or creating properly paginated bundles, even for cases where NG indications have been given at the MC first hearing.
By contrast we have to see clients, take full instructions on wholly inadequate disclsoure, get an Advocate on board and complete the PTPH form. This is just not long enough and almost impossible for those on remand unless we can get prison visits policies changed; unlikely during the ongoing Prison Service resource crisis.
Members of the LCCSA committee attend meetings about BCM/PTPH organised by the Ministry of Justice with CPS, Judiciary and other agencies present. We continue to argue for a fairer system, and raise practical issues about the operation of DCS and Better Case Management, but are always asked to provide practical examples. Please do continue to raise problems with us and we will continue to take these up with those responsible for implementation.
Kerry Hudson, Bullivant Law
10th May 2016
Kerry is a member of the LCCSA committee, and attends meetings of the BCM LIT ("local implementation team).
The next meeting is 23rd May. Please contact Kerry via email KHudson@bullivantlaw.com