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Trials in UK courts are complex and involve many proceedings, which is why mistakes can occur in any stage of the trial. If some of them can be corrected in due time, others are not found until a sentence has been issued. This is when a case can be reopened; but before proceeding to reopening a case, the magistrates must decide the course of action based on the evidence and even testimonies of witnesses.
A clear distinction must be made between reopening a case and appealing a sentence, as these are two different things in the UK justice. If the appeal implies requesting a higher court to review sentence, the reopening means a re-trial of the case under different circumstance. Case reopening can only be decided by the Magistrate Courts in the UK.
What are the circumstances leading to a case reopening in the UK?
Before delving into the retrying of cases in the UK, there is a very important aspect which must be considered: each case is particular and will be treated as such by the judge disposing its reopening.
The first and most common type of case reopening in the UK is when acting in the best interest of justice. There are various factors which can influence a verdict which is why a thorough consideration before issuing a verdict is necessary in order to avoid errors: any errors in judgment or proceedings during a trial may overturn a sentence and have a case reopened.
According to the Magistrates Court Act of 1980, there are also specific situations which automatically impose case reopening: skipping a stage during the trial, passing a sentence in absence of the accused or if any delays leading to a change in the sentence have appeared.
The procedure for reopening a case
We mentioned in the beginning the difference between the appeal and the case reopening in the UK. Another difference between the two procedures implies a limited period of time for an offender to file for an appeal, while in the case of case reopening there is no statute of limitation.
Also, there is no special petition to be filed when asking for a case reopening, but an application under Section 142 of the Magistrates Court Act should reduce any delays and the case reopening should be considered faster.
The offender can also ask to appear before the court and present the circumstances under which the retrying of the case should be considered, and the magistrates are bound to consider the reopening of the case if the judicial grounds are met.
Case reopening is not often met in the UK, however if there are sufficient reasons and evidence to lead to such procedure, the Magistrate Court has the general power to order new trials.