Can I Change a Guilty Plea?

January 18, 2019

Although it should go without saying that no guilty plea ought to be entered in any criminal case unless all the evidence has been considered – as it is not easy to later change a guilty plea.  But regrettably, we see an increasing number of people, who have attended court alone, being pressured into entering a plea without having had the advantage of legal advice.

It is vital in all cases that legal advice is sought as early as possible to ensure the best outcome can be secured.

Many people believe it is a straightforward matter to change a guilty plea and enter into a not-guilty plea instead. However in reality reversing a guilty plea can often be very difficult and requires a carefully crafted legal argument to be presented to the court.

Ordinarily, a court will only set-aside a guilty plea if it can be shown that the plea is equivocal (uncertain) in the first place.

The relevant principles have been rehearsed in many cases, but perhaps most famously in P. Foster (Haulage) Ltd v Roberts where the court observed:

“For a plea to be equivocal the defendant must add to the plea of guilty a qualification which, if true, may show that he is not guilty of the offence charged. An example of this type of qualification is found where a man charged with handling a stolen motor car pleads ‘guilty to handling but I didn’t know it was stolen’”

Other factors, such as being influenced by a belief only a guilty plea would secure bail, may also result in a plea being judged as equivocal.  In a number of recent cases, a plea has been treated as equivocal where the defendant was not informed of a legal defence that was available to him, resulting in convictions being set-aside.

Such as in the case of Malak [2018] where the appellant was not informed by his barrister of an available defence the court held:

“We agree with counsel’s description of the oversight as rather fundamental. This was a clear case of an equivocal plea.”

This is an interesting observation by the Court of Appeal as many defendants who enter pleas in the absence of legal advice would have little if any legal knowledge, it suggests that the scope for setting aside a guilty plea may well be broader than many lawyers appreciate.

How Tuckers Solicitors can help you…

To discuss anything to do with equivocal pleas please contact us on 020 7388 8333 or email and we will gladly assist.  

Our offices are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, ready to deliver immediate and expert legal advice and representation.