High Court Upholds Decision to Extend Custody Time Limit in Complex EncroChat Case

Citation: [2023] EWHC 76 (Admin)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Andrew Osarinmwian, R (on the application of) v Manchester Crown Court ([2023] EWHC 76 (Admin)), the High Court engaged in a judicial review to scrutinize the decision made by Manchester Crown Court to extend a custody time limit (CTL) related to an EncroChat case. The review probes whether the Crown Court’s decision aligns with the relevant statutory requirements and principles established by case law precedent.

Key Facts

The claimant sought a judicial review due to a postponed trial and an extended CTL. EncroChat cases often involve complex evidence packs necessary for the experts’ analysis concerning the reliability of communications. Significant delays in providing these materials led to the CTL being pushed beyond the original trial date.

Despite the Judge recognizing the complexities involved, the prosecution and court faced challenges including misapprehension of the temporal scope of ordered disclosures, misunderstanding format requirements for the evidence, and email communication errors. These factors collectively impacted trial preparations and prompted the need for an extension.

The case presented several key questions, including whether the prosecution had exhibited “all due diligence and expedition” and whether the court’s decision to extend the CTL was reasonable and lawful under public law terms.

The central legal principle in this case revolved around the due diligence and expedition required by the prosecution in criminal cases, as stipulated by case law precedent, especially Sierotko ([2023] EWHC 1187 (Admin)) and the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996. The question before the court was whether the prosecution acted with the necessary diligence and speed to justify the extension of the CTL by exhibiting:

  • Depth of Pre-Trial Preparation: Whether the prosecution’s preparatory actions were sufficient and proactive.
  • Response to Court Orders: The prosecution’s response to the judge’s order in supplying evidence within the requested timeframe and format.
  • Effective Communication: The prosecution’s and defence’s communication, specifically concerning expert analyses and evidence handling.

Another guiding principle assessed was the legal procedural standard. The court considered whether the standard of perfection or hindsight was applied unfairly against the prosecution or whether genuine and unavoidable challenges led to the delay.

Outcomes

FORDHAM J rejected the claimant’s application for judicial review by affirming that the Manchester Crown Court’s decision to extend the CTL was within reasonable bounds. The judgment identified several areas where the prosecution could have performed better but concluded that these did not amount to a lack of due diligence and expedition. The Court acknowledged that, while errors were made, they did not reflect a systemic lack of care or intentional wrongdoing.

By adopting a systematic and fair analysis of the complex circumstances and specific issues the prosecution faced, the Court determined that the statutory precondition of due diligence and expedition was sufficiently met, thus allowing for the CTL extension.

Conclusion

The High Court’s decision in this judicial review underscores the latitude given to trial courts in managing complex cases. The ruling emphasizes the need for a balanced approach that recognizes the practical challenges of pre-trial preparations while maintaining the statutory requirements of due diligence and expedition by the prosecution. However, the ruling also highlights the necessity for clear and effective communication between all parties involved to prevent delays and errors that could infringe upon defendants’ rights to a timely trial.

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