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Magistrates' Courts unable to change their own verdicts

In DPP v Chajed (2013) a Divisional Court presided over by Laws LJ and Hickinbottom J was asked whether magistrates had been wrong to reconsider and change their verdict of guilty after they had announced it.

Mr Chajed had been prosecuted for failing to provide a specimen contrary to section 7(6) of the Road Traffic Act 1988.  At trial his evidence was disbelieved and he was convicted by a lay bench.   Immediately after announcing the guilty verdict Mr Chajeds barrister made further submissions on whether the bench should have made a finding of fact over the polices failure to ask Mr Chajed whether he had been sick in the past 20 minutes.  The bench retired without hearing further submissions from the prosecution.  When the magistrates returned they set aside the guilty verdict and replaced it with a not guilty verdict.

In fact, the further submission had been misconceived.  The absence of the question by the police should not have altered the verdict.  However, of wider significance was the act of setting aside of the conviction.  The Divisional Court held that the magistrates had been wrong to reconsider their verdict once they had pronounced it.   This was because magistrates' courts were creatures of statute and had no inherent powers.  section 142 provided a slip rule to rectify minor mistakes, but it could not be used to change a verdict of guilty to not guilty.  The correct procedure would have been an appeal to the Crown Court or the Divisional Court.   The acquittal was quashed and the guilty verdict restored.


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