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Courts Act 2003

Criminal jurisdiction and procedure

Section 45: Power to make rulings at pre-trial hearings.Schedule 3: Pre-trial hearings in magistrates’ courts

106.This section provides the power for judges and lay magistrates to make binding rulings and directions at pre-trial hearings in criminal cases that are to be tried in the magistrates’ courts, where it is in the interests of justice to do so. It will only be possible to make binding rulings in the magistrates’ courts, once a not-guilty plea has been entered. This means that the primary disclosure provisions set out in Part 1 of the CPIA 1996 will apply.

107.Schedule 3 inserts a new section 8A, “Power to make rulings at pre-trial hearing” and section 8B, “Effect of rulings at pre-trial hearing” into the MCA 1980. The new sections largely follow sections 40 and 41 of Part 4 of the CPIA 1996, which sets out the Crown Court’s power to make binding rulings in pre-trial hearings.

108.Before making a binding ruling, a magistrates’ court must give the parties an opportunity to be heard and, when the accused is unrepresented but wishes to be represented, must consider whether to grant legal representation at public expense. A pre-trial ruling made by a magistrates’ court will remain binding until the case is disposed of or is sent to the Crown Court.

109.There is no specific right of appeal against a pre-trial ruling. An accused may appeal to the Crown Court against a ruling (if convicted) once the case is concluded, in the normal manner. The magistrates’ court may also discharge or vary a pre-trial ruling on application by a party to the case (where there has been a material change of circumstances) or, where it is in the interests of justice, of its own motion.

110.Provision is made for restrictions on reporting of pre-trial hearings in order to avoid prejudicing the right to a fair trial, should the case (or linked proceedings) ultimately be tried in the Crown Court. The publishing of anything other than basic factual matters is prohibited in England and Wales, unless the court orders that reporting restrictions should not apply, until such time as the case against the accused is disposed of. The definition includes electronic methods of communication and, where an offence is committed by a body corporate, liability to prosecution for contravention of reporting restrictions may also extend to the company’s officers.

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