Crown Courts deal with the most serious of offences. Any defendant either pleading guilty or being convicted may face long periods in prison. Defendants experience a range of emotions but one view remains consistent in that sentences or convictions general prompt defendants to raise the question “what are my chances on appeal?”.
The first stage of any appeal against sentence or conviction is to obtain an advice on appeal from the instructed barrister. If a defendant is legally aided this advice is covered by the Legal Aid Representation Order. The advice will either recommend an appeal or state that there are no grounds to appeal. In this later case that is the end of the work that can be done under legal aid. If the advice is positive an appeal can be lodged with the Court of Appeal. The barrister will normally draft the grounds of appeal.
Even where the advice states that there are no grounds to appeal an appeal can still be lodged. Many prisoners know the procedure and are keen to advise new inmates to appeal because “… there is nothing to lose.” It is well known that all appeals are initially looked at by a “Single Judge”. This is effectively a screening process to prevent appeals with no merit from proceeding. Many defendants say “Take it to the Single Judge and if he throws it out I will not take it further because nothing bad can happen at that stage it is only if I take it to the full Court of Appeal I can get extra time”. Many years ago, that may well have been the case. There is a significant difficulty which can now arise. “Single Judges” have always had the power to make “loss of time orders”. This is a deterrent to appealing because if the “Single Judge” decides that any appeal is “plainly without merit” he can make a loss of time order. He can say for example that 56 days served does not count towards sentence that means that a further 56 days has to be served before release. That must be very difficult for a serving prisoner to cope with.
You can imagine that with all the Crown Courts in the country and the amount of cases each court will deal with in a day the possibility of appeals arising is enormous. The Court of Appeal could easily become overloaded. Their current way of deterring appeals is to use the power to make loss of time orders. Anyone considering an appeal needs to consider the options very carefully especially where the barristers advice is negative. Indeed, a positive advice is not in itself a shield to prevent a “loss of time order”.