Voluntary bills of indictment

The nature of preferment of a bill of indictment

Whenever a person is accused of a serious crime and is to be tried on indictment, in majority of cases he is sent, transferred or committed by the magistrates for a trial before a jury. There is an alternative route through section 2(2)(b) of the Administration of Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1933 which allows the preferment of a bill of indictment with the consent of a judge of the High Court. The essence of that procedure is that a High Court judge orders that the accused be tried on indictment.  

In theory the prosecution can apply in every case to a High Court judge for a voluntary bill. However, a recent Criminal Practice Directions governing the applications process emphasises that preferment is an exceptional procedure and consent should only be granted where good reason to depart from the normal procedure is clearly shown. Further, the rules require that such bill should only be granted where the interest of justice, rather than considerations of administrative convenience require it.

The application procedure

The procedure for voluntary bills of indictment is set out in the Indictments Procedure Rules 1971. Those rules require for the application to be in writing and bearing the signature of the applicant or alternatively his solicitor. Unless there have already been unsuccessful committal proceedings, the application should also state why it is being made. Further, the application should include copies of any charges on which the defendant has been committed for trial. 

In addition, the application needs to be accompanied with:

(a) the bill of indictment it is proposed to refer

(b) proofs of evidence from the proposed prosecution witnesses and/or depositions taken and statements tendered at the committal proceedings if such have taken place 

With the above documents, there must also be an affidavit verifying that the statements contained in the application are true to the best of the applicant’s knowledge and belief.

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For more information on:

  • The decision
  • Appeal from a decision to prefer a bill of indictment