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High Court Quashes Convictions For Lesser Alternatives

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On the 23rd February 2016 a divisional court of the High Court heard arguments about the appropriate way to deal with alternative charges in the Magistrates’ Court. Keith Allen of ABR Solicitors acted as solicitor in the matter and Nick de la Poer of New Park Court Chambers, as counsel.

The brief facts of the case are that on the 1st May 2015 after a trial lasting two days at Huddersfield Magistrates’ Court the appellant was convicted of 3 racially aggravated public order offences.  He was also convicted of the 3 lesser alternative charges under the Public Order Act.  These lesser offences were on precisely the same facts as the aggravated form of the offences, but did not include the racial element.

Keith had argued that the Court was wrong to convict the defendant of both sets of matters as it meant that he would have two crimes on his record when in fact in relation to each pair of offences (aggravated and lesser) there was only a single piece of offending behaviour.  The District Judge, in deciding to convict the defendant of the lesser alternatives, referred to guidance issued by the Justices Clerks Society and to a High Court case from 1991.  The Judge concluded that the law permitted him to convict the defendant of both sets of offences and that it was appropriate for such verdicts to be returned.

Believing that the decision should be challenged Keith instructed Nick de la Poer and stated a case for consideration by the High Court.

The question for the High Court was whether it was wrong in law to convict someone of both the racially aggravated public order offence and the lesser public order offence based on the same facts when one was an alternative to the other.

Keith and Nick worked closely together on the matter and on the 23rd February the case was argued before a Divisional Court of Lord Justice Simon, Mr Justice Cooke and Mr Justice Leggatt.  The Court reserved judgement which was handed down on the 9th March 2016.

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