On 26 August 2015 the Daily Mail reported on a “legal first”: Mr Robert Newman, 47, had his case dealt with outside of York Crown Court.
Newman is a wheelchair user and was unable to make it up the steps outside of York Crown Court. This was drawn to the attention of the judge who agreed that the proceedings should take place just outside of the court house.
The hearing therefore took place in the open air, with the prosecutor putting the single charge of making of indecent images to Newman. Newman pleaded guilty and the case was put back for sentencing on 29 September 2015. He will appear at the Crown Court via video link at Scarborough Magistrates Court, which has more suitable facilities for wheelchair users.
Newman had been found in possession of 1,000 indecent images of children, however no classification of the images (for the purposes of sentencing) had seemingly taken place.
Was it a legal first?
No. Rare, indeed, but not a first. When the story broke there were a number of solicitors and barristers on social media telling of unusual cases in which part of the hearing had had to occur outside of the court room.
The need for a power to hold a hearing in a place other than a courtroom is obvious – unforeseen circumstances such as power cuts, floods etc. sometimes require a change of venue and it is far better for the court to make some amendments rather than stop the whole process until the issue can be resolved. In this case, Newman’s case would have had to have been put back until he could appear either via video link or at another court able to accommodate his wheelchair. It was far more sensible to hold the short hearing outside, saving time and money.
Reports will be prepared and he will be sentenced on 29 September. As we don’t know the categorisation of the images, predicting the sentence is difficult. Absent any mitigation and unusual factors, we’d expect the offence to fall around the custody threshold.