Court Clarifies Treatment of Electronic Evidence in PPE Calculation: Analysis of R v Walker [2024] EWHC 21 (SCCO) Case Law

Citation: [2024] EWHC 21 (SCCO)
Judgment on

Introduction

This article analyzes the case law of R v Walker [2024] EWHC 21 (SCCO), which revolves around the treatment and remuneration of electronic pages of prosecution evidence (PPE) under the Litigators Graduated Fee Scheme as per the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013.

Key Facts

The appellant, Altaf Solicitors, appealed against a decision disallowing electronic PPE when calculating the PPE for graduated fee purposes. This appeal focuses on whether electronic spreadsheets, not formally served as evidence by the prosecution yet crucial to the defense, should be accounted for under the PPE remuneration.

The defendant, Shane Walker, faced indictment for breaching a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO) by using a device with an app (‘CCleaner’) allegedly designed to remove traces of internet usage, contrary to the SHPO’s requirements. The prosecution’s case relied on streamlined forensic reports which identified the presence of the CCleaner app on Walker’s devices, without further detailed analysis of the full electronic evidence, as this was deemed the defense’s responsibility.

The electronic evidence included substantial spreadsheets listing interactions with the CCleaner application. The defense argued that the spreadsheets should be included in the PPE count, as they were pivotal for establishing the defense’s arguments concerning the capabilities and use of the CCleaner app.

Electronic Evidence and PPE

The central legal issue in this case pertains to whether electronic evidence should be classified as PPE under the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013, Schedule 2, paragraph 1(5). The regulation gives discretion to include electronic evidence in the PPE count if “appropriate” considering the nature of the document and other relevant circumstances.

Determining If Electronic Evidence Equates to PPE

The Costs Judge applied principles from The Lord Chancellor v SVS Solicitors [2017] EWHC 1045 (QB), which set a precedent for determining when unserved material, central to the case, can be treated as if it had been served. The Judge acknowledged that for the defense to present a fair summary of evidence, reviewing surrounding materials omitted by the police oculd be necessary.

However, the evidence’s relevance to the prosecution’s case is the defining factor, not its importance to the defense. Electronic evidence that is ancillary to the principal issues faced by the prosecution should not disturb the “economic balance” of the fee scheme, thereby falling under special preparation rather than being counted as PPE.

Threshold for Inclusion of Electronic Evidence in PPE

The Judge held that the prosecution’s case, resting on the presence of the CCleaner app, did not require extensive examination of the spreadsheets. The defense’s need to demonstrate a reasonable excuse for the app’s presence appeared to relate more to the defendant’s evidence and possible defense expert analysis, thus signaling work beyond what is typical for PPE and entering the realm of special preparation.

Outcomes

The appeal was dismissed on the basis that the electronic spreadsheets provided to the defense did not amount to PPE within the intent of the Regulations. The Judge concluded that the nature of the electronic documents and the case circumstances did not necessitate their inclusion as PPE. Therefore, the Costs Judge upheld the determining officer’s decision to include only the paper documents and the streamlined forensic report in the PPE count.

Conclusion

In R v Walker, the court underscored the distinction between the prosecution’s reliance on certain evidence and its utility for the defense. Electronic evidence that is supplementary to the crux of the prosecution’s case is not automatically considered PPE for fee purposes under the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013. Solicitors representing defendants in such scenarios should anticipate the financial implications of conducting an in-depth analysis of electronic evidence outside the remit of the graduated fee scheme, as this will likely be compensated through special preparation fees rather than PPE counts.

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