Abolition of more committal hearings: offences triable either way
In the book I discuss how the more serious criminal cases, all of which start in the magistrates’ courts, get to the Crown Court. it used to be the case that cases would only be transferred after a committal hearing. Committals in indictable-only cases were abolished and replaced by a process known as ‘sending’ under section 51 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. This enables cases to be sent straight to the Crown court after the defendant’s first appearance in the magistrates’ court.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 made provision for the same procedure to be adopted in cases that could be tried either way, where it was decided that they would be tried on indictment. The relevant provision has not to date been implemented, but the Secretary of State for Justice has now decided to bring this provision into effect from April 2012. It is estimated that this will reduce the number of committal hearings by around 60,000.
Defence lawyers are furious that, in anticipation of the change they will no longer be paid for committal hearings; this decision is currently the subject of a judicial review.