Prosecuting Cases at Court

Many retired and older officers will recall prosecuting cases at Magistrates Court before the days of the Crown Prosecution Service. Usually minor summons cases or overnight lock-ups and occasionally (when the DCI wouldn’t authorise a solicitor) dealing with not guilty pleas including calling and examining witnesses.

From the Manchester Chronicle & Lancashire General Advertiser of Friday 6th of September 1907, comes an interesting snippet.

‘At Dukinfield Police-court, yesterday, Detective Inspector Cotterill, of the Great Central Railway police, occupied a seat at the solicitors’ table and rose to prosecute in a case of theft from the company’s premises. The chairman of the Bench, Mr W.E. Wood, objected to the inspector laying the facts before the court, and said that as the railway company could afford it, they should have a solicitor.

The inspector: “I am a sworn officer of the company, and it is usual to take these cases.” The Chairman: “Can we listen to a gentleman who is not a solicitor?” Inspector Cotterill replied that he could conduct cases in any but the High Courts, and that this was the first time in 16 years he had been objected to. The Chairman said that it was a case for a solicitor, and it would be more respectful to the court if a legal representative appeared for the company. The Clerk, Mr A. Howard, said the magistrates could refuse to listen to Mr Cotterill because he was not the informant. The Chairman said: “Very well: I decline.”

Inspector Cotterill thereupon laid a new information, with himself as informant, and was thus able to conduct the case. The Chairman added that other railway companies always had a solicitor, but Mr Cotterill said that was not so in every case.’

Congratulations to Mr Cotterill for neatly finding a way around the problem. I had the doubtful honour of prosecuting many case at court and had some interesting times. One, I think, bears recounting here.

In 1980 I was a detective sergeant waiting to prosecute a case at Coventry magistrates court. In the corridor outside was a noisy family group with an adult male who, at eleven in the morning, was clearly intoxicated. With the noise and foul language increasing, and not a uniformed officer in sight, I went across for a quiet word. I began politely but almost instantly found myself rolling around the floor with this yob, my court papers flying everywhere.

The rumpus soon brought the cavalry and the offender was subdued and carted off to the cells below the court. He was charged with being drunk and disorderly, processed and brought before the court that morning. As the duty inspector said with a glint in his eye, it was an opportunity for the magistrates to see ‘drunk and disorderly’ in action. The accused pleaded not guilty of course and so I took the stand to prove the case. He was convicted and fined £50 and returned to the cells bawling and shouting until he could sober up.

My part in this administration of justice was not great but what may be remarkable is that the offence was committed, the suspect arrested and charged, brought before the court where he denied the offence, he was tried, convicted and sentenced. And all in the space of 45 minutes. This may be a record, who is to know? And the accused probably remembered little about it anyway.


by Viv Head

This article originally appeared in the BTPHG Year Book 2013.