Prosecutors may be able to appeal acquittals

Attorney General, Lord Williams QC has announced that the Government has asked the Law Commission to draw up plans to allow wider rights of appeal against adverse decisions of a judge.

If accepted, the Government's plans would give English and Welsh prosecutors a right of appeal if a defendant is acquitted by a jury on the direction of a judge, leaving the defendant facing a retrial.

Under the present law, the Attorney General may refer a judge's ruling to the Court of Appeal for review on a point of law. But even if the appeal succeeds, the not guilty verdict stands and the defendant cannot face retrial.

Lord Williams said last night that there was “an unjustifiable imbalance” between the appeal rights of the prosecution and the defence.

He said: “If a judge decided to stay a prosecution on the ground of abuse of process, or direct the jury to acquit a defendant, or make a ruling concerning the admissibility of evidence which has the effect of depriving the prosecution of a vital plank of its case, ought not the prosecution be able to test that ruling on appeal?”

He pledged to ensure the new rules would not cause unnecessary delay to the system and said a “filter” may be introduced to allow appeals only on the say-so of the Director of Public Prosecutions.