The Criminal Procedure Act 2011 requires defendants to enter pleas at an early stage of proceedings for offences. The Act also links the timing of election for jury trials with the entry of a not guilty plea.
The Criminal Procedure Rules 2012 made under the Act set out the process for defendants to plead at the commencement of a jury trial.
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The court may require the defendant to enter a plea where not already done if the defendant has had initial disclosure under section 12(1) of the Criminal Disclosure Act 2008 and the opportunity for legal advice.
If the defendant does not enter a plea when required, the defendant is deemed to have pleaded not guilty and the proceedings continue accordingly.
A Registrar can exercise the power of the court to require a plea from a defendant charged with a category 1, 2, or 3 offence. A not guilty plea to a category 4 offence can only be entered in the High Court, after transfer from the defendant’s first appearance in a District Court.
A defendant charged with a category 1 offence may enter a plea to that charge by filing a notice in court. If the defendant enters a guilty plea, the defendant may indicate in the notice whether they wish to appear for sentencing. The defendant may also include any written submissions to be taken into account at sentencing.
A defendant charged with a category 2, 3 or 4 offence may enter a not guilty plea by notice only where represented by a lawyer. If a defendant charged with a category 3 offence is entering a not guilty plea, and the defendant wishes to elect jury trial, the notice must record that election and the charge to which it relates.
The types of plea available to a defendant are guilty, not guilty, or a special plea:
If the defendant enters a special plea, the availability of that plea must be determined by a Judge. If a special plea is entered in relation to a category 4 offence, the availability of that plea must be decided by a High Court
A defendant may ask at any time to be brought back before the court to change a not guilty plea to a guilty plea. A change of plea could be indicated on the case management memorandum (CMM) so the guilty plea can be entered at case review.
If a defendant indicates that he or she intends to plead guilty, but does not, they must be treated as if the indication was never made.
The court may grant leave to withdraw a plea of guilty at any time before the defendant has been sentenced or otherwise dealt with. The court must grant leave if a different type or greater quantum of sentence to that indicated and accepted by the defendant, is to be imposed.
After the jury has been sworn, the defendant will be asked to plead to each charge on the charge list. The charge list, prepared by the Crown prosecutor, sequentially sets out each charge against the defendant.
A defendant who is charged with a category 3 offence may elect to be tried by a jury.
An election of jury trial must be made at the time of entering a not guilty plea to a category 3 offence.
However, a defendant may seek leave of the court to make a later election as long as the defendant’s Judge-alone trial (presided over by a Judge, one or more Justices of the Peace or Community Magistrates if they have jurisdiction to hear the proceeding) has not commenced. The court may only grant leave for a late election if satisfied that there has been a change in circumstances that might reasonably affect the defendant’s decision whether to elect a trial by jury.
An election may be withdrawn by the defendant if their jury trial has not commenced but only if the court grants leave. The court will only grant leave if satisfied that there has been a change in circumstances that:
Unless there are exceptional circumstances that make separate trials necessary in the interests of justice, where one defendant being heard together with others elects a jury trial, all charges against all defendants must be tried by a jury.
However, if a jointly charged defendant is to be tried by a jury and a co-defendant is no longer to have a jury trial, the defendant may seek leave to withdraw his or her election before the trial commences.
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