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The Lord Chief Justice has approved an ‘easy read’ appeal notice under Criminal Procedure Rule 34.3. This notice combines simple language and pictures to lead the defendant through the completion of an appeal notice.
The aim of drafting an appeal notice in simple language must be applauded. However, the ‘easy read’ notice takes matters too far and is a worrying illustration of the consequences of the repeated and continual cuts to public funding.
Clearly this form is not intended for use by those appellant’s who are represented – the traditional appeal form remains. The purpose of these forms is to assist unrepresented appellants in submitting their appeal.
The form includes illustrations to assist the appellant in completing such sections as ‘what is your address’, ‘what is your phone number’, ‘what is the name of your prison’ and ‘what date were you sentenced’:
In a period of repeated reductions in funding for the entire Criminal Justice System the form appears to invite prolix and unfocused applications as appellants are invited to, “Tell us here why you do not agree with your conviction… You can use extra paper if you need to”.
While the form is capable of capturing a great deal of information there is no section to explain how to withdraw an appeal; that an appellant is responsible for drafting and serving defence witness notices; or to ascertain whether the appellant was previously represented.
The first two omissions may have very real costs consequences for the appellant. The last omission is of increasing relevance with the growth of orders prohibiting the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.
An appeal from the Magistrate’s Court is available as of right and a simply worded appeal form is not a substitute for advice and assistance. The financial impact of managing unfocused applications and instructing court appointed advocates for the purpose of cross-examination (in relevant cases) should be followed carefully. Given the repeated reductions in legal aid rates it is very possible that the cost of managing any increase in appeals will quickly exceed the costs which would have been born to provide representation under the legal aid scheme.
The right for appellants to conduct their own hearings clearly must remain and many appellants effectively and persuasively argue their case. But this is clearly not a form designed for use by those who will be able to properly prepare for an appeal hearing. This is a form designed for those who are vulnerable. Where an appellant requires an illustration to answer the most basic questions there cannot be any possibility of there being an equality of arms between the appellant and the respondent - who will take the form of a qualified lawyer fully conversant in criminal practice.
This form was clearly designed for laudable purposes. The form captures the same material as is required by the standard appeal notice and demonstrates that there is no need for a thicket of legislative extracts. However, a reduction in the number of represented defendants / appellants cannot be met by simplifying forms alone or there cannot be any possibility of fairness.
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