Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A fair trial

Flicking between channels I caught both the BBC Breakfast and ITV Local discussing the trial today of four Birmingham men who are charged with "engaging in conduct with the intention of assisting in the commission of acts of terrorism" except one who's charged with "failing to disclose information relating to an act of terrorism". While I'm unsure how the latter applies unless it's regarding an act that's happened that's not what caught my attention.

These men were arrested from their homes in Birmingham by the West Midlands Counter Terrorist Unit. They were then held at Coventry's Chace Avenue station because "it has modern high-security facilities" and now they're being tried in a Magistrates Court, Westminster Magistrates Court to be exact. Perhaps it's just me but why aren't they appearing in Birmingham Magistrates Court?

So why have they been taken down to London, now all their families, friends, supporters, witnesses, legal representatives all have to make a trip down there.

Now I can understand this in some circumstances - if it is alleged that you committed a crime in London then head home to Birmingham then West Midlands Police can arrest you on behalf of the Metropolitan Police, you will then be tried in London where the crime took place; this makes sense. Except the 'crime' in this case appears to have been committed in Birmingham in that the "engaging in conduct..." happened there despite the target possibly being London so how does this work jurisdictionally?

Imagine I'm in Birmingham laying out plans to rob a bank in London, is it a Birmingham or London jurisdiction? Well despite the fact that the crime would have taken place in London, the crime for which I would be charged with was committed in Birmingham so the ball should be in Birmingham's Court (har-har)... so again why have these men been moved to London?

This may seem like nit-picking, but in terms of jurisdiction - shouldn't the accused appear in a court in the same area where the crime for which they are being charged was committed?

[Update - The CPS has the following:

Generally, an offence will only be triable in the jurisdiction in which the offence takes place, unless there is a specific provision to ground jurisdiction, for instance where specific statutes enable the UK to exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction:
* terrorism (ss. 59, 62-63 of the Terrorism Act 2000)
For a list of particular offences with an extra-territorial reach see Archbold 2-36a-2-83
Note that last bit about referring to Archbold, they mean this at £245+VAT yeah I'll just grab my copy. The actual law they quote for the Terrorist Act ss 59 62-62 all start with, to paraphrase, 'If a person does anything outside the United Kingdom'; so doesn't apply in this case. Further down on the CPS page we get
There should be a preliminary presumption that, if possible, a prosecution should take place in the jurisdiction where the majority of the criminality occurred or where the majority of the loss was sustained.
That would presumably be Birmingham as no loss has been sustained; so once again why London?]

[Update 2 - Bystander of The Magistrates Blog got back to me with the fact that Westminster is where the Chief Magistrate sits and that it has special jurisdiction over terrorism and extradition matters which few other District Judges are authorised to deal with armed with a better search term I dig out a PDF from HM Courts detailing a protocol issued by the president of the Queen's bench division:

In order to comply with section 46 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, if a defendant in a terrorism case is charged at a police station within the local justice area in which Westminster Magistrates’ Court is situated the defendant must be brought before Westminster Magistrates’ Court as soon as is practicable and in any event not later than the first sitting after he is charged with the offence. If a defendant in a terrorism case is charged in a police station outside the local justice area in which Westminster Magistrates’ Court is situated, unless the Chief Magistrate or other designated judge directs otherwise, the defendant must be removed to that area as soon as is practicable. He must then be brought before Westminster Magistrates’ Court as soon as is practicable after his arrival in the area and in any event not later than the first sitting of Westminster Magistrates’ Court after his arrival in that area.

Now digging around I can see some courts have jurisdiction to act in certain matters as designated by the Lord Chancellor, to be precise the normal jurisdiction was removed unless granted, but I can find nothing that removes the normal jurisdiction of courts over terrorism. Everything simply states that the Chief Magistrate (at Westminster) "is one of the Judges dealing with the special jurisdiction of Extradition and Terrorism Act cases", but nothing seems to suggest why just him]


Don B said...

That's interesting.
Earlier this year I sat in on a case where the offence was committed in Suffolk but the defendant lived in Staffordshire. The case was investigated by Staffordshire Police and the defendant appeared before magistrates in a small Staffordshire town where eventually the case was transferred to Stafford Crown Court and part way through the proceedings was moved to a Crown Court in the West Midland conurbation. So it is not just in terrorist cases that trials get moved "Out of area".

FlipC said...

It does seem that some Courts are deemed to be the only ones able to deal with certain offences; I just find it odd that the closest (or possibly only) one to Birmingham for terrorism is Westminster.

Don B said...

As I understood it it is not the court but who is hearing the case. In the terrorist case it has to be the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and in the case I highlighted to judges who have certain pieces of paper authorising to hear certain types of legal augument.

FlipC said...

From the HM Courts document the CPS has to notify the person on the rota for special jurisdiction at Westminster who then has to notify the Chief Magistrate.

In these cases everything by default takes place at Westminster "unless the Chief Magistrate or other designated judge directs otherwise", see 'other designated judge' which suggests it doesn't have to be just the CM who is merely "one of the Judges" who can deal with this; so are the only Judges who can deal with this all situated at Westminster?