Waiving the Book of Evidence in a Criminal Case: the importance of a Solicitor’s Legal Advice
Although all cases start off life before the District Court, a significant number progress in due course to the Circuit Criminal Court or Central Criminal Court. This can happen for a number of reasons:
1. The DPP has directed that the case be tried on indictment before a jury (and sometimes an offence can only be tried in that way) ;
2. A Judge of the District Court has determined that the case is too serious to be dealt with by the District Court; or
3. An Accused has chosen (‘elected’) to be tried by a jury of their peers
This advancement to a higher court is commonly referred to as being ‘sent forward’.
Before an Accused can be sent forward to a higher Court, the State must serve them with a ‘Book of Evidence’. This is a formal compilation of the prosecution’s evidence in the case, and can take some time to prepare. This can take some time to prepare. It is typical practice amongst legal practitioners to await service of the Book of Evidence before advising an Accused, and before entering a plea before the trial Court.
However, it has for many years been open to an Accused person to plead guilty at a much earlier stage, before the case leaves the District Court. This course of action would obviously be of great assistance to the prosecution, saving time and expense for both the Courts and the Gardai. This option of being sent forward on a signed guilty plea is provided for by Section 13 of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1967.
It goes without saying that this option is not always appropriate – more often than not, it isn’t – but it should at least be considered in the right cases.
The way defence lawyers were paid meant that the possibility of waiving the Book of Evidence was not always given due or fair consideration. It may also be more prudent in many cases to take the Book of Evidence and see if a suspected flaw is present or if a new technical or substantive defence reveals itself.
There are certainly cases, though, where proceeding by way of a signed plea is a shrewd and sensible option. It is a very good way of dealing with a serious case where a lawyer can confidently advise that the State will be able to prove the case against an Accused. This is, of course, provided that the Accused person is in agreement with the advice given and is fully satisfied to sign the guilty plea. It is in effect a form of ‘damage limitation’, of helping oneself when the other options are poor, and of maximising any credit or goodwill available from the Courts and Gardai. In a bad case, it is my opinion that making an early decision to go all-in and cooperate with the authorities can make the difference between a significant prison sentence and considerably less jail time or even no jail time at all. We have had a number of cases where I can confidently say that opting to go forward on signed pleas has been the major driving factor in achieving good results in the face of grave circumstances.
Waiving the Book of Evidence is a good example of the importance of getting good, practical and timely legal advice. This course of action is one based on sound judgment and experience, and an ability to assess at an early stage the strength of the prosecution case and the likelihood of conviction. It is vitally important then that an Accused person has had the benefit of good legal advice – even at the investigation stage at a Garda Station. You are entitled to be offered the opportunity to consult with a solicitor, before being questioned (and to have that solicitor present with you for any interview) and that is one right that we would urge people NOT to waive.
If you have any questions arising out of this post, or wish to discuss this or any other matter relating to the criminal law, please contact Peter Connolly Solicitors using the contact details below or via the contact box at the foot of the page.