Relevance of previous convictions in magistrates court???

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cookiemosweets | 23:16 Wed 13th Apr 2011 | Criminal
25 Answers
Hi All

My friend is due in magistrates court soon.
She is worried that a previous conviction from her early 20s will be brought up and make her seem a person of "bad character"
The offence was 17 years ago and outcome conditional discharge
I think this is highly unlikely but perhaps the prosecution could mention it and even if not relevant it would prejudice the magistrate???

Thanks in advance


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There's a great deal >>stopping the prosecution solicitor mentioning the previous record "accidentally"
23:54 Wed 13th Apr 2011
-- answer removed --
It's only under exceptional circumstances that a person's previous convictions can be made known to a court during a trial process. (For example, a guy might say that he bought his computer second hand, so he's not responsible for the child porn that was found on it. The prosecution could then ask for the court to be told about his 19 previous convictions for the same offence).

So your friend's previous brush with the law can't be mentioned until she's either pleaded guilty or been convicted by the court. At that stage the Clerk would normally hand a copy of her record' to the Magistrates.

They only keep records of convictions for 15 years Cookie so she'll be ok.

Sorry, Eddie but convictions are never regarded as 'spent' when magistrates (or a judge) are advised of a convicted person's criminal record.

However, as you indicate, an offence from 17 years ago (which only led to a conditional discharge) is extremely unlikely to have any bearing upon sentencing.
. . . and sorry, Jem, as well but a criminal record is for life.
Question Author
Im still unsure....
After all there is nothing stopping the prosecution solicitor mentioning the previous record "accidentally" is there...
She is pleading not guilty to the charges anyway so it will go to trial (magistrates only as summary offence) and thought this is when they would drag up details of her past.
previous convictions will be known, but as already said.. will only be brought up for sentencing purposes and then, only if very serious or considered to be a "like" offence.

I would also agree that it sounds very unlikely in such a scenario.
There's a great deal >>stopping the prosecution solicitor mentioning the previous record "accidentally"<<<

Firstly, he'd face possible disciplinary action from the Law Society for doing so. Secondly, he'd face disciplinary action from his employer (the CPS).
Thirdly he'd face the wrath of the court because . . .
. . . Fourthly, the magistrates would immediately be forced to halt the trial and to commence arrangements for a retrial.

Suggesting that a CPS solicitor would "accidentally" refer to a previous conviction is akin to suggesting that a doctor would "accidentally" fondle a woman patient's breast. Nobody can guarantee that it won't happen but the likelihood of it is extremely low (and the possible consequences for the solicitor extremely serious).

Question Author
thanks for the answers so far - really helpful!

The prosecution is not CPS it is DWP. She is charged with 1 count of failing to notify change of circumstances but is pleading not guilty as there is a copy of a letter proving she did notify change of employment (Carers Allowance)
The conviction from 17 years ago was shoplifting.
My view is if you put the 2 together she seems a dishonest person so you can understand my concern :)
I think you are worrying unnecessarily.

Firstly the fact that it is the DWP and nor the CPS prosecuting makes no difference. The prosecutor is still bound by the same protocol. As Chris has said, it is unlikely in the extreme that your friend’s “previous” would be mentioned before conviction. The circumstances in which a defendant’s antecedents can be made known to the trial Bench are extremely limited and certainly do not apply here.

Even after conviction an offence which attracted a Conditional Discharge such a long time ago would not be “cited” by the sentencing Magistrates. It is too long ago, too trivial and too dissimilar to the current charge. The Magistrates would see the conviction on the defendant’s previous record but it would not influence their sentencing decision.
Chico and NJ are right. Although not referring to previous convictions, "similar evidence" was first admitted by the courts in the case of R v Smith in 1915 (the Brides in the Bath case). On trial for the murder of his fourth wife who had drowned in the bath, a question arose as to whether this could have occurred by natural means. The prosecution were allowed to adduce evidence that his three previous wives had drowned in the bath, which evidence, inter alia, was sufficient to send him to the gallows.
Should a magistrate not know of the accused's previous record? I once faced a charge which carried a mandatory 6 months sentence. When my solicitor asked for the sentence to be suspended the magistrate lifted my file from his desk and refused saying I had previous convictions. The fact that he had that file there must have coloured his judgement, even before he'd looked at it.
If you'd reached the sentencing point, SW, you'd either pleaded guilty or been found guilty. At that point (and not before) the magistrates should have your 'record' available to them.

SW? Sorry, SR!
He actually had it on his desk all through the proceedings. But it was a long time ago and I'm sure they do things differently now.
It must have been a long time ago, Sandy, because I know of no offence which carries a "mandatory" six month custodial sentence (which, coincidentally, is the maximum available to magistrates). Additionally magistrates are not routinely provided with a defendant's previous record at the start of proceedings. They are normally provided by the prosecutor as he or she addresses the court.
The past is another country and they did things differently there. It was in N Ireland in the 1970's. The charge was riotious behaviour and it carried a minimum six month sentence. I don't know of a single person charged with that offence then who was acquitted.
The fact that no one was acquitted of the offence is no criticism of it - rather a testimony to the fact that the forces of law and order had done their job properly.
There are ONLY two ways that the prosecution can adduce evidence of the previous bad character before her trial. Firstly is by making a bad character application. It is extremely unlikely that a conviction from 17 years ago will be admitted (even if the DWP decided to make such an application). Secondly would be if she gives evidence to say she is a person of good character (when strictly speaking, she is not).

It will be put forwards on sentencing (if convicted or pleading guilty), but entirely unlikely to be of relevance other than the fact that the defendant cannot say she is a person of good character.
Sorry Sandy, did not know it was NI. They really do do things differently there and I don't know much about it.

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