Change of plea – Postal pleas – Right to change plea after hearing

Michael John Rymer v Director of Public Prosecutions: DC (Lord Justice Hooper, Mr Justice Rafferty): 21 July 2010

The appellant (R) appealed by way of case stated against a decision of a magistrates’ court that he had no automatic right to plead not guilty at an adjourned hearing following his postal plea of guilty to a driving offence.

R had received in the post a requisition for a summary offence and he chose to plead guilty by post. His written plea of guilty was accepted by the magistrates at a hearing in his absence and a conviction was recorded. The magistrates then adjourned the case to consider whether R should be disqualified from driving. At the adjourned hearing, before sentence, R informed the magistrates that he wanted to change his plea to not guilty. The magistrates held that he had no automatic right to plead not guilty at the adjourned hearing. R submitted that, by reason of section 12(9) of the Magistrates Courts Act 1980 the written plea of guilty was no longer effective and he had a right to enter a not guilty plea.

Held: Section 12(10) of the act envisaged that a defendant had been convicted in his absence on the basis of his accepted plea of guilty and that sentencing had been adjourned. It would be inconsistent with section 12(10) to conclude that, at the adjourned hearing following his conviction, R had an automatic right to plead not guilty. Support for that conclusion also came from section 10(3). Sections 12(8) and 11(4) of the act mentioned the ‘resumption’ of a trial or hearing after an adjournment under section 10(3). The ‘resumption’ referred to a resumption following conviction. If a defendant wanted to withdraw his plea, it had to be before the section 12 hearing. It followed that R did not have the automatic right to plead not guilty at the adjourned hearing. R would be given a fresh opportunity at the resumption of the hearing to show that he should be permitted to withdraw his plea under rule 37.9 of the Criminal Procedure Rules 2010.

Appeal dismissed.

N Bell (instructed by Stevens) for the appellant; H Watson (instructed by in-house solicitor) for the respondent.