The Service of Information in the Brave New Era

The Service of Information in the Brave New Era

The time limit for a summary only offence is settled law of long standing. It is rooted in the ancient and excellent principle that a person has the right to know that proceedings against them are closed. The law has never required the prosecution be brought within six months but the laying of the information must be done within that time limit.

In the case of Begum & Anor v Luton Borough Council [2018] EWHA 1044, the High Court considered a problem created by the wave of understaffed courts run by subcontractors and empty offices. Luton Borough Council had attempted to serve an information on the last day of the available six month period to find that the court counter at Luton Magistrates Court had been closed some months ago. The informations were therefore left with subcontracted court security guards to be handed to the appropriate persons. However, the informations were out of time by the time they reached administrative staff.

Two questions were posed. Firstly and principally, was a subcontracted court security guard a court officer with implied authority to accept the informations within r.4.3(1)(e) of the CPR 2015? Secondly, were the informations in time? Both questions were answered negatively.

R4.4 CPR is clear that an information may be left with court security, whether sub-contracted or not. Security staff receive many documents for delivery and collection and perform their duties admirably. However, they do not have the necessary authority for the purposes of accepting an information within r.4.3(1), at least under their current contractual arrangements.

While a document may be left with court security, service cannot take place within r4.3(1) until it is handed over to a member of court administration staff.

The way forward for HMCTS is yet unknown. They may review their contractual obligations, conferring on security staff express authority to accept informations and so bringing them within r.4(3)(1). Teething problems aside, the digital era is taking hold within the court system and should be embraced. Service by electronic means under r.4.2(2) is inescapably desirable, it being swift, convenient, and capable of proof.

Cuts in public spending may have consequences for the operational effectiveness of courts. We all have sympathy. However, that is no excuse for standards to fall and demands to be slackened. The consequences must not be suffered by citizens who are entitled to know their fate.

Jo Morris

Libby Anderson