High Court Addresses Inclusion of Electronic Data in Prosecution Evidence Count under Litigator's Fee Scheme

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3363 (SCCO)
Judgment on

Introduction

The High Court of Justice, Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO), addressed an appeal concerning the assessment of prosecution evidence in the case of R v Jeanette Carr [2023] EWHC 3363 (SCCO). The central issue revolved around whether electronic data extracted from mobile phones should be fully included in the ‘pages of prosecution evidence’ (PPE) count under the Litigator’s Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS), as stipulated by The Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013.

Key Facts

Yates Ardern Solicitors, the appellants, appealed against the Legal Aid Agency’s decision to reduce the PPE count in Jeanette Carr’s case. The prosecution evidence originally comprised 13,348 pages of electronic data from two mobile phones, which the appellants contended should be capped at the regulated 10,000 pages and fully included in the PPE count. However, the Determining Officer (DO) at the Legal Aid Agency included only 527 pages of this data, asserting that only relevant categories of evidence should count towards the PPE.

The legal framework for this appeal is rooted in The Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013, particularly:

  1. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 2: Establishes the scope of PPE, including certain types of evidence such as witness statements and interview records, with electronic documents served by the prosecution also included, subject to relevancy and format considerations.

  2. Holroyde J’s Guidance: In previous case law, such as Lord Chancellor v. SVS Solicitors [2017] EWHC 1045 (QB), it was ruled that the DO holds a discretionary role in assessing the relevance of electronic data for inclusion in the PPE count, forming a control mechanism for the appropriate use of public funds in legal cases.

Applying these legal principles, the Costs Judge Whalan examined the nature of the electronic data under dispute. Categories allowed by the DO (such as Call logs, Instant messages, etc.) were deemed directly relevant to demonstrating contact between co-defendants, while others (like Images and Web History) were not.

Outcomes

The Costs Judge Whalan affirmed the DO’s assessment that only categories of electronic data with direct relevance to the case should be included in the PPE count. Consequently, the disputed data, largely composed of images, audio, and video files, was not admitted due to insufficient relevance to the case. The appeal was dismissed, upholding the original determination for a PPE count of 2,885 pages.

Conclusion

The decision in R v Jeanette Carr underlines the judiciary’s meticulous approach in determining what constitutes relevant prosecution evidence, particularly in regard to electronic data. Adhering to the discretionary guidelines established by Holroyde J in Lord Chancellor v. SVS Solicitors, the SCCO has reinforced the notion that not all data served by the prosecution is automatically significant for inclusion in the PPE count. This case affirms the responsibility of the DO to judiciously assess evidence for its pertinence to the case, ensuring judicious expenditure of public funds. Legal professionals must thus recognize the pivotal nature of relevance when compiling prosecution evidence for remuneration claims under the LGFS in the UK.

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