News & Insights
Ben Brown takes a look at the recently updated Crown Court Compendium and identifies how it can be of assistance to all advocates in the Crown Court.
In December 2020, an updated Crown Court Compendium was released, building upon the previous updates to the first publication in May 2016.
The Crown Court Compendium is a resource that was produced with the aims of providing guidance to Judges and Recorders when directing a jury in Crown Court trials and providing assistance when conducting sentencing exercises.
The Compendium is separated into two parts: Part 1 addressing ‘Jury and Trial Management and Summing Up’ and Part 2 dealing with ‘Sentencing’. It was designed to replace all of the guidance provided by the Judicial College and the Judicial Studies Board. As outlined in the introduction, it is intended to combine, “the perceived strengths of all these previous publications, so that further reference to them is not necessary”.
The Compendium is kept up to date with twice-yearly revisions, with the next update scheduled in July 2021. It is edited by a team of senior members of the judiciary, leading criminal practitioners and academics.
With regards to the December 2020 updates to the Compendium, the noteworthy amendments are very helpfully outlined in the introduction by HHJ Martin Picton for Part 1. Lord Justice Holroyde, Chairman of the Sentencing Council, provides a foreword for Part 2, focusing on the most significant development, namely the new addition of the Sentencing Code.
Despite primarily being intended as a resource to be utilised by Judges and Recorders, the Compendium can be of great assistance to advocates in a multitude of ways.
Assistance to the Court
By having an awareness of the correct procedure and directions to be adopted in a myriad of circumstances throughout the court process, advocates can readily assist the court in ensuring that a fair and efficient trial is in operation. An understanding of the Compendium enables advocates to assist Judges and Recorders alike to ensure that jurors get the appropriate directions they need to come to a verdict. Notably as Lord Justice Simon outlined in AG  EWCA Crim 1393:
“First, the Crown Court Compendium, which is freely available to practitioners who appear in the Crown Court and to Judges who sit there, provides guidance and draft directions in relation to points of law and practice that may arise in trials and in relation to which juries may need to be directed. Each direction has been carefully considered and provides judges with an invaluable resource which, when adapted to the facts of a particular case, will provide an appropriate framework for a legally correct direction. Those who do not avail themselves of these draft directions are at risk of introducing error in the summing-up”.
The use of the Compendium by advocates ensures that juries are provided with the appropriate assistance, and avoids the dire consequences of a misdirection.
Assistance to clients
A good understanding of the Compendium also allows advocates to provide their own clients with an accurate and detailed understanding of the procedure adopted throughout the course of a trial. Whilst advising a client on procedure could perhaps be considered to be a secondary consideration, to do so well is essential for putting clients at their ease. The Compendium is an incredibly useful tool that can be utilised in achieving this goal.
For example, a client will be better prepared from the outset of their case when advised on the nature of a direction to be given to a jury about their failure to mention something when questioned. Furthermore, they can be provided with a sample direction.
Advocates are invariably better placed to provide advice when armed with an accurate insight into what lies ahead in a criminal trial.
Navigating difficult trial scenarios
The Compendium provides advocates with clear and concise legal summaries and example directions for the most difficult and complex situations. For example, the Compendium covers atypical situations, such as: where a defendant is found to be unfit to plead and/or stand trial; when the defendant argues sane automatism; or when there has been a failure to make proper disclosure of the defence case and sanctions follow.
By having an accurate understanding of the nature of the directions that may be given to a jury in such a case, advocates will be best placed to make appropriate tailored submissions and mitigate the impact of the directions.
The Compendium provides very useful practical guidance on a large number of areas throughout the trial process, including more nuanced areas often given little consideration by advocates. For example, what should happen to jury questionnaires after a jury is sworn? What is the correct procedure to be adopted when the jury are taken out of court to inspect a particular location or object?
Such matters are the primary consideration for Judges and Recorders, however it can do little harm to an advocate to have a thorough and up to date understanding of the correct approach to be applied, should the need to offer assistance in the management of such scenarios ever arise.
In addition to the assistance to be gained from Part 1 of the Compendium, Part 2 provides advocates with a significant amount of assistance in dealing with sentencing.
For advocates relatively new to the Crown Court and still learning how sentencing exercises will be approached by Judges and Recorders, the Compendium clearly and helpfully outlines the approach that should be adopted. This resource should be utilised in order to develop the art of mitigation and as a tool in order to assist in devising succinct and persuasive sentencing submissions within the appropriate framework.
Given the relatively recent introduction of the Sentencing Code, the Compendium can be of great assistance to advocates in navigating the new statutory provisions. At the beginning of every Chapter in Part 2, there are hyperlinked references to the Sentencing Act 2020 drawing together the relevant statutory framework to be considered. Such a simple tool should be utilised by advocates to navigate through the relatively new statutory landscape when preparing for a sentencing hearing.
Part 2 can also assist advocates in dealing with complicated sentencing exercises for youth matters, such as when it will be appropriate to remit a case back to the Youth Court. In addition, there is a very clear and considered focus on the disposals available for youths and the different sentencing options open to the court. Though of course practitioners will now also have recourse to the new Youth Defendants in the Crown Court Bench Book published by the Judicial College earlier this month.
The Compendium also provides detailed consideration of further powers open to the court, with a substantive focus on ancillary orders and when they are required. For example, there is consideration of regularly used ancillary orders such as Restraining Orders, Sexual Harm Prevention Orders and Serious Crime Prevention Orders. There are also sections covering those less common orders, such as Football Banning Orders, Travel Restriction Orders and Parenting Orders. As ever, having an awareness of the options open to the court, can assist an advocate in any given sentencing scenario.
Whilst intended to be a resource available to Judges and Recorders first and foremost, the Compendium evidently offers a great deal to advocates and it can rightly be considered as a useful Compendium for everyone in the trial process.
Ben Brown has a busy Crown Court practice and is instructed as a led junior and junior alone. He has a wide-ranging practice encompassing: organised crime, serious violence, sexual offences, regulatory offences, financial crime and general crime.
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