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Judges overturn practice of double conviction for aggravated offences

25th Mar 2016

The legal practice of imposing double convictions for racially or religiously aggravated offences has been overturned by a high court ruling.

The unanimous judgment from a panel of three senior judges concluded that duplication was unjustified, and that offenders should not be found guilty twice in magistrates courts for the same individual piece of behaviour: The harassment itself and any racially aggravated aspect of what occurred should be dealt with as a single offence.

The case was brought by Keith Allen, a solicitor with the law firm ABR solicitors, and Nicholas de la Poer, a barrister of New Park Court Chambers, in relation to a defendant, James Henderson, who was convicted six times last year in relation to three separate incidents.

The original trial took place before Huddersfield magistrates. Three of Henderson’s convictions were for racially aggravated harassment under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998; the other three offences related to the same victims, but under the Public Order Act 1986.

Allen argued that the court was wrong to convict the defendant of both offences, as it meant he would have two crimes on his record when there was only a single instance of offending behaviour.

The district judge, however, relying on guidance issued by the Justices Clerks Society and a previous high court case from 1991, concluded that the law permitted him to convict the defendant of both offences.

On appeal in the high court, De la Poer convinced the panel – Lord Justice Simon, Mr Justice Cooke and Mr Justice Leggatt – that they should overturn the three lesser convictions.

In similar cases in future, the judges said, if defendants are convicted of the more serious aggravated offence then alternative charges for the less serious underlying offence should simply be adjourned sine die (without date), meaning they would not be mentioned on the defendant’s record.

Allen stated that he was “surprised to find out that the magistrates court had a policy recommending convicting people for twice the number of offences than they had committed and am happy that that policy has now been brought to an end through this case.”

It is difficult to estimate how many offences will be affected in future. A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “We are considering the judgment and any implications it may have for us including any practical difficulties which need to be overcome.

“This judgment is not about whether two alternative charges are brought – it is about how convictions are recorded by the court. Ultimately how courts record convictions is a matter for them although we will of course work with them as appropriate to overcome any issues in cases such as these.”