Crown Court

Hillsborough Prosecutions

Hillsborough Prosecutions

A High Court judge has granted permission for proceedings to continue against the former South Yorkshire police chief superintendent, David Duckenfield, who may face charge of manslaughter of 95 people killed during Hillsborough disaster of 1989.

Prosecutions against others allegedly involved in the Hillsborough tragedy began in July 2017, but Duckenfield's case is different as earlier proceedings against him were stayed in 2000 after a failed private prosecution. A stay acts to prevent a case continuing.

Crown Prosecution Service lawyers, in a 2-day hearing before Sir Peter Openshaw, sitting at Preston Crown Court, will argue for a Voluntary Bill of Indictment. If successful, the stay will be removed, and prosecution proceedings can continue.

Applications to remove a stay on proceedings are relatively rare, as is a request for a Voluntary Bill of Indictment, a special procedure whereby a High Court Judge can authorise crown court proceedings to begin, bypassing other formalities.

A similar application was made against Paul Gadd, better known as Gary Glitter, in 2014. In that case, Mr Justice Globe allowed prosecutions to continue, ultimately resulting in a lengthy prison sentence for Gadd.

What are the criteria?

The Criminal Practice Direction of the Lord Chief Justice states:

“The preferment of a voluntary bill is an exceptional procedure. Consent should only be granted where good reason to depart from the normal procedure is clearly shown and only where the interests of justice, rather than considerations of administrative convenience, require it.”

In the case if R v Arfen 176 JP 682 QBD, without attempting to give an exhaustive list, Mr Justice Nicol identified various circumstances that would justify the granting of leave, namely, if there had been a dismissal without regard to a relevant statutory provision or judicial authority, or there had been an error of law, or if the crown had new evidence which made a significant difference to its case, or if the decision to dismiss lacked a rational foundation.

It is likely that the findings from the Hillsborough inquests will form a major part of the prosecution application.

Are there other considerations?

It is likely that the legal team for Duckenfield will argue that he cannot have a fair trial due to prejudicial press coverage and delay. It would be pure speculation to comment on the likely success of those applications.


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Appeals Against Sentence

Appeals Against Sentence

In this article, we consider appeals against sentence from the Crown Court to the Court of Appeal. The appeal process can be complicated depending on the individual case, but the basics are outlined below. 

Early Indications

All Clients should be given an early indication of the likely sentence range, depending on whether there is a guilty plea or conviction after trial.

In some cases, I can be relatively precise as to what might be expected. In others, the range can be quite broad.

But, things do not always go to plan. The evidence may change during the case making it a lot more serious than originally thought (and it can go the other way as well), or the Judge may take a different view of the case, or, and this happens a lot, the Judge falls into error and makes a mistake when sentencing.

First Steps

In all cases, following sentence, there should be clear advice on appeal. This will normally be given verbally, but you can have it in writing if you request that. In more complex cases it is usual for the advocate to set out in writing why an appeal is or is not appropriate.

If an appeal is advised, we will discuss this with you and take the next steps. Likewise, if an appeal is not thought to be viable.

What are the grounds for appeal?

There is a margin of appreciation in sentencing, which means that the Court of Appeal will not interfere merely because it would have sentenced differently.

There are 13 distinct grounds for appeal, but they conveniently break down into two broad labels. For the court to intervene the sentence must be either

  • Wrong in principle, or
  • Manifestly excessive

All appeals are considered initially by a Single Judge, who decides whether the case has merit or not. If that Judge refuses leave to appeal, then we will discuss the next steps with you.

If I am told not to appeal, can I ignore that advice?

Yes, you can. However, this should be discussed with us in advance because there are risks in proceeding with a meritless appeal. A court can impose costs, and also in some cases make a 'loss of time' direction, which means that release from prison will be delayed (14-42 days normally).

How long does an appeal take?

This depends on the complexity of the case and the listing requirements of the court, but appeals are typically heard within six months of being lodged with the court. If a person has received a short prison sentence, there is a procedure to expedite an appeal, and in some cases, they can be heard within a few days.

Can I get bail pending an appeal?

Only in rare cases will the Court grant bail pending appeal, the usual remedy it to expedite the hearing in those cases where this approach is merited.

Where is the appeal heard?

Most appeals are held at the Court of Appeal in London, although occasionally the court sits at regional Crown Court centres. If you are in custody, you will typically be present via video-link, or if on bail you can attend the hearing in person.

Court of Appeal judges will hear the case, and you will be represented by an advocate at the hearing. In some cases, the prosecution is also present, but not always.

When will I find out the result?

In most cases, the result is announced at the end of the hearing. If complex issues are involved, then the decision might take a few weeks longer.

If you didn't represent me, can you advise on appeal?

Yes, I would be happy to discuss your case.

For all criminal law related advice please contact me on +44(0)7766001774 or email me: