Abolition of Committals:
Commencement of Schedule 3 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Kenneth Clarke QC):
It is in the interests of victims and witnesses, and of the criminal justice system generally, that court procedures should be made as efficient as possible, for example by cutting out unnecessary court hearings. More than ten years ago, committal proceedings were abolished in indictable-only offences, and replaced by a new ‘sending’ procedure. The Government has decided that the time has come to complete that reform by extending it to offences triable either way. This will enable the Crown Court to manage such cases from an earlier stage, and facilitate efforts to encourage defendants who intend to plead guilty to do so sooner.
The change will be effected by bringing into force Schedule 3 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 on a phased basis from April 2012. Following the practice adopted when the existing sending procedure in Section 51 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was first introduced, commencement will initially be limited to certain geographical areas, which will be announced later. Subject to a satisfactory assessment of the first phase, the intention is to complete implementation over the next year.
The Government believes that this reform has the potential to contribute to its aim of reforming and improving the criminal justice system.
I can't see anyone being too bothered about the abolition of committals for either-way offences. When I started on the bench the 'old-style' (Section 6.1) committal involved hearing live evidence, and we were sitting as examining justices to decide whether there was a case to answer, thus acting as a filter on cases that were heading for the Crown Court. Then as now, most cases went up under Section 6.2, a 'paper committal' in which the defence accepts that there is a case to answer, and evidence bundles are served in court. Clerks only had time for a brief look through what could be a three-inch thick bundle, then off it would go to Hizonner. A 6.1 these days is just a 'read through' that can lead to a duplication of effort, so it's no real loss, especially given the huge pressure that there will be on court time in the New Year.
In my new merged bench we are to lose six courtrooms, which means the loss of something like 1500 court days a year. Something has to give.