Pump Court Chambers

Skyping the Court of Appeal

Blog 21st May 2020
Sarah Jones QC

Six Things I Learned dealing with an appeal against sentence during the pandemic:

  1. Court of Appeal Judges look infinitely less severe/frightening/impressive in “normal business attire” than when in full horse-hair and robed regalia. This sensation is further heightened when the designated High Court Judge giving the judgement of the court is the one in the actual courtroom in the RCJ and therefore barely visible – so although you can see Lord Justice X potentially catching up on his emails at some screen in LJ Towers, Judge Y was seen as though down the end of a long telescope and indistinguishable from the Usher or court clerk.
  2. As well as banishing family members to the farthest reaches of your home, it is best to take away the dog’s chewbone prior to the start of the hearing. My submissions were probably not enhanced by the sound of my dog sharpening her teeth with more ferocity than fortunately any of their Lordships felt inclined to display towards me.
  3. Patience is still a virtue – you may not have to travel to the Court any longer, it may be a vastly reduced list, but you will still be kept waiting until it pleases their Lordships to come to you with little in the way of warning or assistance. I was second in a short list commencing 10.30am but despite a successful dry run the previous day no email with my link to the video hearing was sent to me until 11.10am and no reassurance could be obtained from any of the multiple email addresses or telephone numbers the Court of Appeal Criminal Office were able to supply.
  4. Seeing two of their Lordships at video-link proximity is an inducement to brevity and realism. When you can see the whites of their Lordship’s eyes it is harder to convince oneself that your advocacy is moving the immoveable, or your pleas softening their granite exteriors. You stick to your best points and say them only once. Accordingly, as I lost my appeal I was commended, in the traditional sop of praise to the valiant advocate, for my moderate and concise submissions.
  5. Covid-19 may be a consideration for accepting lesser pleas (CPS website), it may be a valid consideration when considering whether to suspend a sentence (R v Manning (Christopher) 2020 EWCA (Crim) 592), but it did not merit a mention when their Lordships dismissed the appeal against sentence of a man in his 80s who had recently suffered a stroke and might be considered to be the very definition of vulnerable.
  6. Historic Sexual Offending sentences are to the Court of Appeal as mountains were to Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross – none is ever high enough. Their Lordships had no difficulty in dismissing an appeal against the passing of an 8-year sentence where the judge had to deal with 4 counts of indecent assault committed in the 70s and therefore subject to a maximum 2 years each. The fact that two were single incidents committed within 5 days of the other against the same woman did not appear to justify concurrent sentencing. The fact there was no violence used, or no penetration in respect of one offence justified no reduction from the maximum term. The fact the Defendant had committed no further offences before or since, his age and ill health, his wife’s age and ill health, the glowing character references for the other parts of his life – none justified even a nod towards a lowering of the maximum – the defendant’s culpability and the harm caused justified zero account being taken in the term he should serve.

This article Skyping the Court of Appeal was written by Sarah Jones QC, for further information on her practice or please contact Tony George via our switchboard 01962 868161 or email: t.george@pumpcourtchambers.com

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