An updated Plea and Trial Preparatory Hearing (PTPH) form has been issued and some of the most significant changes relate to child defendants.
As a result of R v Grant-Murray and Henry; R v McGill, Hewitt and Hewitt  EWCA 1228 the Criminal Procedure Rules Committee reviewed the PTPH form in relation to child defendants in the crown court.
For child defendants the form now requires the court to give reasons for departing from the Criminal Practice Direction and the Equal Treatment Bench Book. In addition, the form prompts the necessary decisions and allows the judge to record the orders made regarding the following:
- reporting restrictions
- ground rules hearing
The form lists other orders that may be possible to make at PTPH:
- suitability of video link
- arrangements between the defence, court staff and police so that the defendant is not exposed to intimidation
- supporting adult to be made available throughout the trial
- supporting adult to sit with the defendant during the trial
- defendant to sit near advocate rather than in the dock
- defence to provide welfare information to the court and to timetable trial and breaks accordingly so that the defendant can concenrtrate
- removal of wigs and gowns
- dock security to wear civilian clothes
- no uniformed police in the courtroom without good reason
- adapted courtroom so that defendants are at the same level
- public/press to be restricted to video relay
- defendant court familiarisation visit to allocated court room with intermediary if necessary
- trial to be conducted in clear language
In the above mentioned case the practice direction was not mentioned in open court. The Court of Appeal expressed frustration at not knowing why certain measures, such as the defendant sitting outside of the dock, were not put into place. The purpose of announcing the changes to the PTPH form was to avoid this happening again in future cases.
A significant number of children have gone through crown court trials without the benefit of the protections available to them. All of the professionals working within the system have a duty to have regard to the welfare of these young defendants and defence lawyers are, of course, best placed to fight for their clients in this regard. The new PTPH form is welcomed as a practical tool which will ensure the rights of child defendants are properly considered at an early stage of all crown court trials.