Judges are entitled to expect assistance from advocates when dealing with lengthy sentencing lists, the Court of Appeal has said in a case highlighting challenges with 'modern' sentencing legislation.
In Dean Christopher Maxwell v R, Lord Justice Treacy, said sentencing judges are often burdened with long lists. 'They have a right to expect appropriate assistance from the advocates before them', he insisted in the judgment, published this week. 'It is clear that no such consideration or assistance was given by the advocates in this case, either before the judge came to sentence or indeed after he had sentenced in a flawed manner in a number of respects, or had failed to pass sentence on certain matters at all.'
Maxwell, who pleaded guilty to multiple offences, was sentenced in February 2016 to seven years and four months' imprisonment. He was also disqualified from driving for three years and until an extended test was passed.
However, he claimed that three counts were wrongly on the indictment and the proceedings in relation to them were 'a nullity'. Treacy said this point 'was not taken until very recently. The appellant's advocate had never considered it until a query was raised by the Criminal Appeal Office'. The court granted Maxwell a time extension to argue the point. The convictions and sentences for those three counts were subsequently quashed.
The Court of Appeal also allowed an appeal against sentence, reducing Maxwell's total sentence to six years.
However, concluding his judgment with a 'final comment', Treacy noted that the original grounds of appeal were confined to a straightforward assertion that the overall sentence was too long.
'After the single judge had granted leave to appeal on that basis, lawyers in the Criminal Appeal Office identified a large number of matters which had gone wrong below and drew them to the attention of the court and the parties,' he said.
That time spent by the office 'will have been many times that expended in the Crown court at the original hearing. Those resources could have been much better deployed in dealing with other cases'.
Problems arise from the complexity of modern sentencing legislation, 'but that phenomenon is well known and all involved in the Crown court should therefore be alert to the need for care in technical matters'.
Treacy said counsel on both sides had apologised to the court for their part in the failures, 'but that is small recompense for the disproportionate time and effort involved in correcting errors which should never have taken place. We can only urge greater vigilance on the part of all those involved in sentencing before the Crown court'.
Ms Justice Russell and Her Honour Judge Cutts QC agreed with Treacy.