The written information procedure

Part of Prisons and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:45 pm ar 18 Ebrill 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 4:45, 18 Ebrill 2017

Again, I commend the hon. Gentleman on putting forward a protection, but I hope to be able to satisfy him that the Bill tackles the issue.

I start by saying that I agree it is desirable for defendants to seek legal representation in the case of serious crimes. Engaging with the court online at pre-trial stages will be voluntary, and if a defendant wants to speak to a lawyer at a hearing before indicating a plea, he will be perfectly entitled to do that. Similarly, if he wants to obtain legal advice before indicating a plea online, he can do that. The measure does not fundamentally undermine the current system. In fact, it is probably better.

It is also relevant that, save when specific procedures apply in respect of summary offences—those are very limited—the defendant will have to enter a plea at the court hearing rather than simply indicating what their plea is online. So before trial or sentencing, a plea will have been entered at court.

If a defendant withdrew a previously indicated guilty plea, the previous admission of guilt could not be admitted as evidence in the proceedings, and no defendant who attended a court hearing rather than engaging online would be disadvantaged for the purposes of the early guilty plea discount.

Amendment 93 is undesirable to some extent because it would restrict the defendant’s right to self-representation, which has always been there, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.