R v Lawrence (Stephen)

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
JudgeLord Hailsham of St. Marylebone,Lord Diplock,Lord Fraser of Tullybelton,Lord Roskill,Lord Bridge of Harwich
Judgment Date19 March 1981
Judgment citation (vLex)[1981] UKHL J0319-1
Date19 March 1981
CourtHouse of Lords
Regina
(Appellant)
and
Lawrence
(Respondent)
(on Appeal from the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division))

[1981] UKHL J0319-1

Lord Chancellor

Lord Diplock

Lord Fraser of Tullybelton

Lord Roskill

Lord Bridge of Harwich

House of Lords

Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone

My Lords,

1

The question in this appeal is whether the conviction on the 18th March 1980 of Stephen Richard Lawrence for causing death by reckless driving should be restored. In my opinion it should not, both on the grounds on which it was quashed by the Court of Appeal, and on the more general ground about to be formulated by my noble and learned friend. Lord Diplock, with whose conclusions and reasoning I wish to be wholly and unequivocally associated. If I proceed with a few observations of my own about the course of the proceedings, it is because I wish to draw some lessons from them regarding the general conduct of trials on indictment, and not because I wish to repeat in other words what my noble and learned friend is about to say.

2

My Lords, it is notorious that there has grown up a serious backlog of cases for trial in the Crown Court, and this is particularly the case in the South East and London. This backlog has been a source of particular anxiety to me in both my terms of office as I know it is currently to the present Lord Chief Justice. The causes of it are complex, and the remedies are therefore not particularly simple. But, so long as it persists, the whole system of trial by jury, and the regard in which it is rightly held, are adversely affected.

3

My Lords, it is a truism to say that justice delayed is justice denied. But it is not merely the anxiety and uncertainty in the life of the accused, whether on bail or remand, which are affected. Where there is delay the whole quality of justice deteriorates. Our system depends on the recollection of witnesses, conveyed to a jury by oral testimony. As the months pass, this recollection necessarily dims, and juries who are correctly directed not to convict unless they are assured of the reliability of the evidence for the prosecution, necessarily tend to acquit as this becomes less precise, and sometimes less reliable. This may also affect defence witnesses on the opposite side. In the instant case, an accident took place unexpectedly in a matter of seconds. The evidence at the trial included the testimony of witnesses, present on the occasion, none of whom could have been expecting a moment before it occurred that they were to be confronted with a desperate tragedy, to the sequence of events in which in eleven months' time they would be expected to testify on oath.

4

Part of the delay in bringing cases to trial is due to the increase in the volume of indictable crime brought to the Crown Court. But part also is due to the increasing prolixity in the conduct of cases when they actually come to be heard. It cannot be too often stressed that verbose justice is not necessarily good justice. There is virtue, both from the point of view of the prosecution and from the point of view of the defence, in incisiveness, decisiveness and conciseness, not only in addressing juries but in the general conduct of a case, the examination and cross-examination of witnesses, the submission of legal argument, and in summing-up. A long trial is not necessarily a better one if a shorter one would have sufficed. It is these considerations which lead me to analyse the course of events in the present appeal, and not any desire to expand upon, or to qualify the reasoning of my noble and learned friend.

5

The course of events was as follows. On the 13th March 1980 in the Crown Court at Ipswich the Respondent (Defendant) in these proceedings was arraigned on an indictment of great simplicity. It read as follows:

6

Stephen Richard Lawrence is charged as follows: —

7

Statement of Offence: —

8

Causing death by reckless driving, contrary to section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1972.

9

Particulars of Offence: —

10

STEPHEN RICHARD LAWRENCE, on the 13th day of April 1979 at Lowestoft in the County of Suffolk, caused the death of Yvonne Letticia Crowther, by driving a motor vehicle on a road, namely, Victoria Road recklessly.

11

I pause at this stage only to point out that, owing to the delays which have mounted up in the South East and London, this simple case has taken a whole year less one month to come on for trial. That it took this length of delay to bring it on for trial is, of course, no criticism of the judge, counsel or solicitors in the present case. It is the cumulative result of the length and number of other cases with which your Lordships have not been concerned.

12

The trial pursued its course during Thursday the 13th, Friday the 14th, and Monday the 17th March, 1980. The learned judge commenced his summing-up on Tuesday the 18th March. After this summing-up and an interchange between the two counsel and the judge the jury retired at 11.28 a.m. They returned at 2.15 p.m. after deliberating for 2 hours and 47 minutes, when they were given a majority verdict direction. At 2.32 p.m. the jury delivered a note to the learned judge requesting further directions on the meaning of "driving recklessly". There was a further interchange between judge and counsel in the absence of the jury. At 3.15 p.m. the jury were summoned back and given a further direction. At 3.43 p.m. the jury convicted the Respondent by a verdict of eleven to one, and after the usual procedure the learned judge sentenced the Respondent to six months in prison and three years disqualification.

13

On the 20th May 1980 the whole trial aborted, because the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction on the grounds that both directions left "so much unclear as to render the jury's verdict unsafe and unsatisfactory." So other cases in the Crown Court at Ipswich were delayed by the judge-time consumed to no purpose during the better part of a week. But that has not been the end of the matter. At the request of the prosecution the Court of Appeal certified the three following questions as of "general public importance" :

"1. Is mens rea involved in the offence of driving recklessly?

2. If yes, what is the mental element required?

3. Is the following on a charge of driving recklessly a proper direction:

A driver is guilty of driving recklessly if he deliberately disregards the obligation to drive with due care and attention or is indifferent as to whether or not he does so and thereby creates a risk of an accident which a driver driving with due care and attention would not create."

14

These three questions form the substance of the appeal. In certifying them the Court of Appeal refused leave to appeal. This was given subsequently by the Appeal Committee of your Lordships' House, possibly because the question of "recklessness" in criminal cases was already before your Lordships in another context in the case of Caldwell in which judgment has just been delivered.

15

I mention these facts because, altogether apart from the merits of the appeal, with which my noble and learned friend, Lord Diplock intends to deal, I think there are lessons to be learned from these proceedings which ought urgently to be studied since they are directly relevant to the serious delays to which I have now drawn attention.

16

The facts of the case can be stated in stark simplicity. On the 13th April 1979 at approximately 8.30 p.m., a husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Crowther, decided to drive their van to an off-licence in Lowestoft in order to buy a some soft drink for the children. They arrived at their destination at approximately 9.00 p.m. Their van was parked on the opposite side of the road to the off-licence. Mr. Crowther stayed in the van. Mrs. Crowther crossed the road and entered the off-licence. When she came out, she stopped at the kerb. Her husband saw her blow him a kiss, and that was the last time he saw his wife alive. In crossing the road to return to the van there was a collision between herself and the second of two motor cyclists. The cycle involved in the collision was driven by the respondent. Mrs. Crowther was killed instantaneously. Her body was carried 45 yards on the front of the cycle before the cycle stopped.

17

At the trial one solitary dispute of primary fact emerged. This was the speed at which the cycle was travelling. The prosecution led evidence intended to show that the cycle was travelling at a grossly excessive speed. Apart from the measurements on the road, there were witnesses of the accident, forensic evidence that the speedometer was jammed at 77 m.p.h. and as to the implications of this, and police evidence regarding the account of the accident by the accused.

18

By contrast, the accused gave evidence and called witnesses who testified that the true speed only was 30-40 m.p.h., technically illegal, since the area was built up, possibly careless, but most improbably reckless.

19

Given the nature of the case, one would hardly think that the case presented much difficulty for a jury to try or for the judge to sum up in a manner calculated to lead them to a just and safe conclusion. If they were satisfied with the prosecution evidence to the extent required by the burden of proof in criminal cases they could hardly fail to convict. If they thought the defence evidence raised a reasonable doubt they could hardly fail to acquit. In the event they convicted by a majority, and their verdict was set aside as unsafe and unsatisfactory on the ground that the two directions on recklessness were so unclear. Neither the result, nor the delay in bringing the matter to trial, nor the course of the proceedings ought to afford any of us who are concerned in the administration of justice in any capacity much cause for satisfaction.

20

It has been said before, but obviously requires to be said again. The purpose of a direction to a jury is not best achieved by...

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