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Criminal plea in absence of sufficient prosecution case information

21 December 2015
  • Concerns have been raised by criminal defence practitioners following the publication in December 2009 of Effective Case Management: Applying the Procedure Rules by the then Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales.
  • The document stresses the requirement in the Criminal Procedure Rules  for the defendant's plea to be taken at the first hearing in the Magistrates' Courts, in all but exceptional cases. The court may therefore require your client to enter a plea where relevant and important information about the prosecution case has not yet been made available.
  • Recent initiatives commenced in 2015 - ‘Transforming Summary Justice’ in the magistrates’ courts, and ‘Better Case Management in the Crown Courts - have also stressed the need for courts to take the defendant’s plea at an early stage, but have also set down time frames in which the prosecution is expected to provide initial details of the prosecution case to the defendant.  
  • This practice note provides information on advising a client on plea in the absence of full information about the prosecution case.

Legal status

This practice note is the Law Society's view of good practice in this area. It is not legal advice.

Practice notes are issued by the Law Society for the use and benefit of its members. They represent the Law Society's view of good practice in a particular area. They are not intended to be the only standard of good practice that solicitors can follow. You are not required to follow them, but doing so will make it easier to account to oversight bodies for your actions.

Practice notes are not legal advice, nor do they necessarily provide a defence to complaints of misconduct or of inadequate professional service. While care has been taken to ensure that they are accurate, up to date and useful, the Law Society will not accept any legal liability in relation to them.

For queries or comments on this practice note contact the Law Society's Practice Advice Service.

Professional conduct

The following sections of the SRA Code are relevant to this issue:

Principle 1 - You must uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice.

Principle 2 - You must act with integrity.

Principle 3 - You must not allow your independence to be compromised.

Principle 4 - You must act in the best interests of each client.

Principle 5 - You must provide a proper standard of service to your clients.

Principle 6 - You must behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services.

Legal and other requirements


SRA Principles

There are ten mandatory principles which apply to all those the SRA regulates and to all aspects of practice. The principles can be found in the SRA Handbook.

The principles apply to solicitors or managers of authorised bodies who are practising from an office outside the UK. They also apply if you are a lawyer-controlled body practising from an office outside the UK.


Must - A specific requirement in legislation or of a principle, rule, outcome or other mandatory provision in the SRA Handbook. You must comply, unless there are specific exemptions or defences provided for in relevant legislation or the SRA Handbook.

Should - Outside of a regulatory context, good practice for most situations in the Law Society's view. In the case of the SRA Handbook, an indicative behaviour or other non-mandatory provision (such as may be set out in notes or guidance).

These may not be the only means of complying with legislative or regulatory requirements and there may be situations where the suggested route is not the best possible route to meet the needs of your client. However, if you do not follow the suggested route, you should be able to justify to oversight bodies why the alternative approach you have taken is appropriate, either for your practice, or in the particular retainer.

May - A non-exhaustive list of options for meeting your obligations or running your practice. Which option you choose is determined by the profile of the individual practice, client or retainer. You may be required to justify why this was an appropriate option to oversight bodies.

SRA Code - SRA Code of Conduct 2011

2007 Code - Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007

OFR - Outcomes-focused regulation

SRA - Solicitors Regulation Authority

Outcome - Outcome

IB - Indicative behaviour

The Law Society also provides a full glossary of other terms used throughout this practice note

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