Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Court formalises the meaning of 'no point of principle'

The Court of Appeal has now formalised the status of the 'no point of principle' (NPP) catchword. Practice Note 8 of 2011 states:
The criminal appeal reforms currently being implemented by the Court of Appeal are designed to promote the efficient disposition of criminal appeals and to maximise the effective utilisation of judicial resources. To further these objectives, the Court wishes to discourage unnecessary citation of prior decisions of the Court.
The following practice will be adopted with effect immediately. When a bench of the Court considers that its reasons for judgment in a criminal appeal contain no new point of principle, the catchwords on the cover sheet will include the words ‘No point of principle’.
A judgment thus classified may not be cited in a subsequent appeal without the leave of the bench hearing that appeal.
This practice note formalises the point the Court of Appeal has been making for most of this year, that there are some decisions which are just not that important and so practitioners shouldn't need to trawl through countless cases for rare statements of principle. It will be important to see how the profession reacts to this practice note. Will it be thought that a diligent and professional solicitor or barrister can simply ignore any case marked NPP and still fulfilling their obligation to stay up to date in the law? Will counsel appearing on a sentencing plea refer to cases marked NPP when attempting to ascertain current sentencing practices and thread the needle between the court's denunciation of raw sentencing statistics and the court's denunciation of direct case comparisons? And what process will the Court of Appeal apply when deciding whether a case raises no point of principle? As I've written previously, there have been at least two occasions where a case marked NPP or "without precedent" appears to develop the established law.

Despite these concerns, the practice note does constitute an important step in stemming the tide that threatens to overwhelm both the court and the profession, and it is to be hoped that it will be effective in that goal.