David Duckenfield, a former senior police officer who was in command on the day of the Hillsborough disaster, will learn this week if the trial against him may proceed.
Prosecutions against those accused of involvement in the Hillsborough disaster resumed in July 2017, although Duckenfield’s case is unique because previous proceedings against him were stayed in 2000 following an unsuccessful private prosecution. A stay prevents a case from proceeding.
Lawyers for the Crown Prosecution Service will argue for a Voluntary Bill of Indictment in a two-day hearing before Sir Peter Openshaw at Preston Crown Court. If successful, the stay will be lifted, allowing the prosecution to proceed.
A request for a Voluntary Bill of Indictment, a special procedure in which a High Court Judge can authorise crown court proceedings to begin without having to go through further formalities, is also uncommon.
In 2014, a similar complaint was filed against Paul Gadd, better known as Gary Glitter. Mr Justice Globe allowed the prosecution to proceed in that instance, and Gadd received a significant prison sentence as a result.
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 R v Arfen 176 JP 682 QBD,
Mr Justice Nicol identified several circumstances that would justify granting leave, including if the dismissal was made without regard to a relevant statutory provision or judicial authority, or if there was a legal error, or if the crown had new evidence that made a significant difference to its case, or if the dismissal decision was made without a rational basis.
The results of the Hillsborough inquests are likely to be a significant component of the prosecution’s case.
Are there other considerations?
Duckenfield’s legal team is likely to argue that due to unfair news coverage and delays, he cannot have a fair trial. Commenting on the likelihood of the applications’ success would be pure speculation.
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