A Day at The Court Of Appeal

Written 21st October 2016 by Ruth Peters

Toby Wilbraham, Higher Court Advocate, blogs about appearing before the Court of Appeal for a successful appeal against sentence

In December 2015 I represented a client at Minshull Street Crown Court for two offences, namely dangerous driving and handling a stolen car. In brief the client had been seen getting into a car which had been taken from a burglary five days previously. When the police pursued the car, he drove it dangerously through a housing estate, fortunately at night, for a while at high speed before abandoning the car and being arrested. It was a fairly straightforward case on the face of it.

When he came to be sentenced the learned Judge gave him a 14 month sentence for the driving offence and 16 months for the handling, to run consecutively therefore totalling 30 months.

Appeal against Sentence

After the sentence the client asked me to consider appealing the case which I did, focusing on the handling sentence which appeared excessive. At the time of sentence there were no definitive guidelines for handling offences, but there was guidance in the case of R v Webbe. After the sentence new sentencing guidelines were imposed in February 2016. Both the caselaw and the new guidelines suggested that the handling offence should not attract a sentence of more than six months.

I drafted an advice and grounds of appeal to be sent to the Court of Appeal. This would be considered by a single Judge who would either grant leave to appeal or refuse leave. If leave was refused then the appeal could be renewed before the full Court of Appeal. There is a risk, that if either the single Judge or full Court feel that the appeal is without merit, then they could order that the period spent on appeal should not count towards the sentence thereby effectively increasing the sentence.

Leave to Appeal

Within a few weeks I had a response, leave had been granted to appeal the sentence. I informed the client who was extremely happy. I did warn that this didn’t mean that the Court would reduce the sentence, but we had a reasonable chance.

It took several more months before I got a date to appear at the Court of Appeal. The listing was for Court 6 at 10:30am and I was expected to be there promptly.

This meant an early start, a train at 7am, arriving at Euston at just after 9am and a brief taxi ride to the Court. The Court was equally impressive inside as outside. It reminded me of both Hogwarts and traditional English boarding schools. The entrance opened up to a huge white stone atrium. Everything was very formal and organised. Once I found the Court I noted that I was second in a list of four appeals.

The Court room itself was situated up a floor to the right of the main atrium. I went in ahead of the hearing to see the layout. The Court itself was relatively small. Blinds were drawn on the long church like window panes on both sides preventing the sun damaging the old books stacked on both sides of the room. The room smelt thick of dust and knowledge. You could picture weighty legal arguments having been made in the Court room over the years.

I watched the case before mine, which involved a heavily pregnant woman having been imprisoned for false ID document offences without the benefit of a pre sentence report. The Court ordered her immediate release.  She appeared to start having contractions as the hearing finished.

Successful reduction in Sentence

My case was an anti-climax. I started to address the Court and was told, politely, that they had already considered my case. They suggested that they felt a discount for the handling of 10 months would be appropriate and asked if I agreed. I said I did. This was exactly what I was going to ask for in any event. I asked for a slight discount in his victim surcharge due to the reduction in sentence and they agreed that was appropriate. I left Court with a genuine feeling that justice had been done.

Toby Wilbraham – Criminal Defence Solicitor and Higher Court Advocate

Toby is a Higher Court Advocate and specialist criminal defence solicitor. He has significant experience in the defence of serious criminal cases and is praised by clients for his meticulous preparation and reassuring nature.

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