Begum & Anor v Luton Borough Council, Court of Appeal - Administrative Court, May 04, 2018, [2018] EWHC 1044 (Admin)

Resolution Date:May 04, 2018
Issuing Organization:Administrative Court
Actores:Begum & Anor v Luton Borough Council
 
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Case No: CO/4108/2017

Neutral Citation Number: [2018] EWHC 1044 (Admin)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

ADMINISTRATIVE COURT

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 04/05/2018

Before :

LORD JUSTICE GROSS

MR JUSTICE SWEENEY

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Between :

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Mr Edmund Walters (instructed by City Law Chambers) for Ghansia Begum

Ms Chiara Maddocks (instructed by City Law Chambers ) for Mumtaz Begum

Dr Aparna Rao (instructed by the Local Authority) for the Respondent

Hearing dates: 6 December 2017

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JudgmentLORD JUSTICE GROSS :

INTRODUCTION

  1. The Respondent, the Luton Borough Council, endeavoured to serve informations on the last day of the available six months' period provided by s.127(1) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 (``the MCA''). The court counter at Luton magistrates' court had been closed some months previously. The informations were left with a sub-contracted court security guard at the magistrates' court. By the time the informations were passed to the court's administrative staff, they were out of time.

  2. Two related questions arise. First and principally, whether a sub-contracted court security guard was a court officer with implied authority to accept the informations, within r. 4.3(1)(e) of the Criminal Procedure Rules 2015 (``the Crim PR'')? (``Question I'') Secondly and depending on the answer to the first question, whether the informations were laid in time? (``Question II'')

  3. The answers to these questions do not depend on the merits (if any) of the underlying case of the Appellants, Ghansia Begum and Mumtaz Begum. Nor do they depend on the reasons (such as they are) for the Respondent seeking to lay the informations so late in the day. Accordingly, it is unnecessary to take up time with either of these matters.

  4. The Appellants appeal to this Court by way of case stated against the ruling made on the 9th June, 2017 by District Judge Dodds, sitting at Milton Keynes magistrates' court. The Judge ruled that the informations were laid within the statutory time limit and that court security officers are impliedly authorised to accept service on behalf of Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (``HMCTS''). On the 31 August 2017, the Judge stated a Case (``the Case'') and posed these Questions (``the Questions'') for the consideration of this Court:

    ``(a) Was my ruling that the informations were laid within the statutory time limit correct in law and that the magistrates' court therefore had jurisdiction to try the case correct in law?

    (b) Was my ruling that court security officers are impliedly authorised to accept service on behalf of HMCTS correct in law in the absence of express written delegation to that effect?''

  5. The Appellants invite the answer of ``No'' to both Questions (a) and (b). The Respondent invites the answer of ``Yes'' to both Questions (a) and (b). Question (b) corresponds to my Question I and Question (a) to my Question II.

  6. One matter can be disposed of at the outset. There was, initially, an issue as to whether a District Judge had jurisdiction to state a case in criminal proceedings until a final determination had been reached. In the event, following a ruling by Goose J, on the 8 November 2017, staying the trial in the magistrates' court pending the outcome of this appeal, that question is (sensibly) no longer live. I say no more of it.

    THE FACTS

  7. The facts appear from the Case. The Appellants each faced 20 informations for alleged offences under the Housing Act 2004 (``the HA 2004'').

  8. The Judge helpfully summarised (at [2]) the considerable area of agreement between the parties:

    `` (a) It was agreed that each of the offences was summary only and subject to the six months time limit for laying an information .... Given that the date of the alleged offences was 2 June 2016 it was agreed that the six months time limit expired on 2 December 2016.

    (b) It was agreed that an officer of Luton Borough Council, Ms Oliver, had delivered the informations and draft summonses by hand in an envelope to a security officer at Luton Magistrates' Court on 2 December 2016 which was within the six months time limit.

    (c) It was agreed that the information and draft summonses were not placed before the administrative staff of ....[HMCTS]...until 5 December 2016 when they were received, opened and date stamped by HMCTS administrative staff which was outside the six months limit.

    (d) Before me there was an agreed statement under Section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 from Karen Wicks, Court Delivery Manager, Luton Magistrates' Court, HMCTS confirming the situation in (c) above and stating that in her view the informations were not deemed laid until 5 December 2016 when they were received, opened and date stamped by HMCTS administrative staff.''

  9. After setting out the rival arguments, the Judge indicated his conclusions. He approached the matter (correctly, as is not in dispute) on the basis that the burden of proof to the criminal standard rested on the Respondent to prove that the informations were laid within the 6 months' time limit, namely, by 2 December 2016.

  10. Rr 7.2(1) and (5) of the Crim PR allowed a prosecutor to serve an information in writing on a court officer or present it to the court. R. 4.3(1) of the Crim PR allowed a prosecutor to serve a document on the court by handing the document to a court officer with authority to accept it at the relevant court office - with the date of service being that day.

  11. A court security guard was appointed by the Lord Chancellor under s.51 of the Courts Act 2003 (``the Courts Act'') ``under a contract and so designated''. A court security officer was an officer of the court for the purposes of contempt under s.12 Contempt of Court Act 1981 (``the CCA 1981''), pursuant to para. 29 of Schedule 11 to the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (``the CJA 1991'').

  12. The Judge's key conclusions then followed:

    `` viii. It being agreed that there is no counter facility at Luton Magistrates' Court as a matter of law, public policy and common sense it must be legally compliant for a prosecutor or any party to proceedings to be able to deliver correspondence by hand via the Security Officer at a court house. This is a position confirmed by Karen Wicks....namely that it is open to court users to hand documents to a court security guard in the absence...

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