HMA v Ronald Adams [2021] HCJAC 19

The Respondent in this case appeared in the High Court in November 2018, on indictment for five charges including sexual assault, rape to injury and penetrative sexual assault against one complainer.

The Crown had attached a docket to the indictment that showed in 2017, the Respondent had pled guilty to the sexual assault of a woman in Liverpool and had been sentenced by the Crown Court in respect of the conviction. Prior to the preliminary hearing for the case in Scotland, counsel for the
respondent challenged the docket and the evidence contained therein as inadmissible. Furthermore, it was argued by counsel for the respondent that leading evidence concerning the conviction in Liverpool would breach the Respondent’s Article 6 ECHR right to a fair trial.

It was further argued that the Respondent would not be able to challenge or refute any evidence of the sexual assault conviction at trial, in contravention of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.
Taking the respondent’s arguments into account, the preliminary hearing judge held that the docket evidence was inadmissible and that leading evidence in respect of it would be unfair to the Respondent.

The Crown appealed this decision on the basis that there was no rule prohibiting evidence being admitted or led concerning an act that an accused has admitted previously. They further appealed on the basis that there was no difference in principle between leading evidence concerning an offence that the accused had been convicted of, as compared to an offence they had pled guilty to.

In giving the opinion of the Appeal Court, Lord Carloway stated that “The difficulty arises only if the respondent accepts the correctness of the previous plea. In that respect, the situation does not differ from that where an accused accepts his guilt in respect of a part of the libel of an indictment.
Even if the respondent does accept the truth of the plea tendered, that does not preclude him from cross-examining the complainer in the docket, only that he could not do so in a manner inconsistent with the acceptance of the truth of the guilty plea.”

The Court further held that the Respondent was not prevented from arguing that the Crown had failed to meet their burden of proof at the case at hand or that mutual corroboration should not apply based on the docket evidence. The Appeal Court also held that the Crown was not forcing the
Respondent to reveal the conviction In concluding, Lord Carloway held: “that conviction should not be revealed unless the respondent elects to take that course and present the argument, which Lord Ericht referred to, that his previous plea was indicative of his preparedness to accept guilt but only
when he had committed the offence.”

Based on the fact that the Respondent was not challenging the ‘correctness’ of the previous plea, and for the reasons stated above, the Court allowed the Appeal.