R v Sargeant

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date17 October 1974
Judgment citation (vLex)[1974] EWCA Crim J1017-5
Docket NumberNo. 2324/B/74
CourtCourt of Appeal (Criminal Division)
Date17 October 1974
James Henry Sargeant

[1974] EWCA Crim J1017-13


Lord Justice Lawton

Lord Justice Scarman


Mr. Justice Dunn

No. 2324/B/74



Royal Courts of Justice

THE APPELLANT was not represented.

MR. GERBER appeared as Counsel for the Crown.


When the appeal of James Henry Sargeant was before the Court last week our attention was drawn to the fact that Detective Inspector Ingram, as he then was (he has since retired from the Metropolitan Police) at the trial had given evidence about Sargeant in these terms: "Q. And do you understand that apart from employment at Scamps, his last employment was as a head greenkeeper? A. Yes, Sir. Q. Which terminated on the 31st August of last year, he being dismissed for drunkenness? A. Yes, Sir."


Counsel defending Sargeant had instructions that that was not true. As a result he cross-examined the Inspector as follows: "Q. My instructions also are that he left the last greenkeeping job having given in his notice, and not for the reason given in "your report, but I believe your source of information is the Club Secretary? A. The Club Secretary, Sir." The inference which the Court draws from the form of defending Counsel's question is that before the Inspector gave the evidence to which I have referred there had been some discussion either between Counsel and the Inspector or between defending Counsel and prosecuting Counsel about the circumstances in which the accused had come to leave his last employment. The Court also draws the inference that defending Counsel had made it clear to somebody on the prosecution's side that it was disputed that the accused had been dismissed for drunkenness. What then should have followed? If the prosecution took the view, as they could have done, that it would have helped the learned Judge to know whether the accused had been dismissed for drunkenness, on finding that this allegation was disputed admissible evidence should have been called. The information which the Inspector gave to the Court was hearsay.


When the appeal came to this Court it was reported to the Court by the probation officer that the Club Secretary had denied that he had ever said anything of the kind alleged. He told the probation officer that the accused had left the employment on notice. The Court thought that this conflict of recollections was most unsatisfactory and as a result requested the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis to have some enquiries made and, as we expected would happen, most thorough enquiries have been made and the results reported to the Court. In fairness to the ex-Inspector this should be said. He has given a circumstantial account of how he got this information. Those from whom he says he got it have denied that they gave it to him. What is obvious, however, is that such information as was given by the Club Secretary to the Inspector was given over the telephone and we all know that messages given over the telephone can be misunderstood.


The Court has no intention of trying to resolve the conflict of recollection which exists in this case, but what it does propose to do is to call attention once again to, and to underline, the need for great care in the giving of evidence of antecedents. As I reminded Counsel in the course of the discussion, before 1941 it was a common practice for police officers giving evidence of antecedents to make general observations about an accused person such as 'He is known to resort with prostitutes and thieves'. In 1941 the Court of Criminal Appeal in the case of R. v. Van Pelz, reported in 29 Criminal Appeal Reports at page 10, disapproved strongly of that kind of evidence. Perhaps I might call attention to what was said by the police officer in that case. The accused was a woman and it was said of her, "She is very well known indeed as a prostitute who frequents the West End of London with a view to contacting men with money, and her activities in this direction have exercised the mind of the police for a considerable time past."


I am not going to read from the judgment, I will read part of the headnote: "A police officer called after conviction to give evidence of the character and antecedents of the prisoner should in general confine his evidence to the previous convictions (if any) and antecedents of the prisoner, including evidence of the prisoner's home and upbringing if his age makes this information material. He should also inform the Court of any matters (whether the subject of charges which are to be taken into consideration or not) which he believes are not disputed", and I would wish to underline the word 'disputed', "by the prisoner and ought to be known to the Court. He should, further, inform the Court of anything known in the prisoner's favour, such as periods of employment or good conduct." Following that case it became the practice at the Bar for prosecuting Counsel to give defending Counsel an opportunity of making representations about any matter in the antecedent report which was disputed. The Court was pleased to hear from Mr. Gerber to-day that that practice still continues.


Defending Counsel should read the antecedent report and if there is anything in it which is disputed by his client he should bring that matter at once to the attention of prosecuting Counsel. Prosecuting Counsel will then have to make up his mind whether to call admissible evidence to prove the disputed facts or to omit them from the evidence. That means, of course, that he must stop the police officer giving evidence about the disputed matters.


We have not had the benefit to-day of hearing prosecuting Counsel in this case, through no fault of his, so we do not know exactly...

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6 books & journal articles
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    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2004, December 2004
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