Is a Goodyear indication binding if a defendant absconds before sentence?
We set this blog up mainly to look at the criminal law for non-lawyers, but ever so often we have a look at decisions of the Court of Appeal that are of interest to lawyers.
Colin Davies had been convicted in 2012 of growing cannabis and got a suspended sentence. This didn’t seem to deter him, as the next year he was accused of doing it again, an accusation that he had denied.
He appeared at the Crown Court for his trial on 5th August 2014, where he asked for a Goodyear indication on a basis that seems somewhat optimistic (and seems to have not been accepted by the Crown or Judge, even though they did not seek a Newton – why this didn’t happen isn’t clear).
An indication was given that the maximum sentence for this would be 2 years (the Judge reserving her position on whether the Suspended Sentence would be activated). Mr Davies then pleaded guilty and the case was put back for 15 minutes for instructions to be taken for mitigate.
Unfortunately, Mr Davies legged it and went on the run for three months, surrendering himself and pleading guilting to the Bail Act offence.
At the sentence, it was accepted on Mr Davies’ behalf that the Goodyear indication was not still binding, given that Mr Davies had absconded.
He was then sentenced to 3 years 2 months for the cannabis offence, consecutive 4 months for the Bail Act offence and with 2 months of the suspended sentence being activated, for a total of 3 years 8 months.
Appeal – Davies  EWCA Crim 930
He appealed on the sole ground that the Judge should have honoured the Goodyear indication. It’s not clear if this was the same lawyer or not, given that it was accepted that this was the correct course of action, but no issue was raised in relation to that.
The Court of Appeal held that the indication was still binding –
“In the case before us the only change in circumstances was the appellant’s absconding from the court after pleading guilty. The applicant was properly given a consecutive sentence for that offence. He had pleaded guilty following the Goodyear indication from the judge and nothing else had changed. In those circumstances we are of the view that the judge was bound by the indication he had given and there was no justification in taking a higher starting point“. (para 15)
The other sentences were left, but the sentence on the cannabis cultivation was reduced to 2 years – a reduction of 14 months. The total sentence was reduced therefore to 2 years, 6 months.
It is (pleasantly) surprising that the Court raised no issue that the Appeal was on the basis of something that that had specifically been conceded as incorrect in the Crown Court.
On the main substance, the practice in relation to Goodyear indications are set out in the Criminal Practice Directions (Part C at page 75). On the principles set out there, the conclusion of the Court of Appeal makes sense – the indication was given and accepted, at which point it was binding.
Although leaving the Court would certainly have irritated the Judge, and he can properly be punished separately for that (as he was), that would not constitute exceptional circumstances to mean that the indication should not be honoured.
Having said that, this is something that has almost certainly happened before, and many Judges would have taken the same view (although this would most likely have occurred where someone failed to attend Court after it was adjourned for a PSR).