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Operation of course of conduct charges
Requirements of course of conduct charges
… to prove a course of conduct charge, it is not necessary to prove an incident of the offence with the same degree of specificity as to date, time, place, circumstance or occasion as would be required if the accused were charged with an offence constituted only by that incident.
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More than one incident of the commission of the offence may be included in a count if those incidents taken together amount to a course of conduct having regard to the time, place or purpose of commission.
The circumstances in which such a count may be appropriate include, but are not limited to, the following:
(a) the victim on each occasion was the same, or there was no identifiable individual victim as, for example, in a case of the unlawful importation of controlled drugs or of money laundering;
(b) the alleged incidents involved a marked degree of repetition in the method employed or in their location, or both;
(c) the alleged incidents took place over a clearly defined period, typically (but not necessarily) no more than about a year;
(d) in any event, the defence is such as to apply to every alleged incident without differentiation. Where what is in issue differs between different incidents, a single “multiple incidents” count will not be appropriate, though it may be appropriate to use two or more such counts according to the circumstances and to the issues raised by the defence.
For some offences, particularly sexual offences, the penalty for the offence may have changed during the period over which the alleged incidents took place. In such a case, additional “multiple incidents” counts should be used so that each count only alleges incidents to which the same maximum penalty applies.
In other cases, such as sexual or physical abuse, a complainant may be in a position only to give evidence of a series of similar incidents without being able to specify when or the precise circumstances in which they occurred. In these cases, a ‘multiple incidents’ count may be desirable. If on the other hand, the complainant is able to identify particular incidents of the offence by reference to a date or other specific event, but alleges that in addition there were other incidents which the complainant is unable to specify, then it may be desirable to include separate counts for the identified incidents and a ‘multiple incidents’ count or counts alleging that incidents of the same offence occurred ‘many’ times. Using a ‘multiple incidents’ count may be an appropriate alternative to using ‘specimen’ counts in some cases where repeated sexual or physical abuse is alleged. The choice of count will depend on the particular circumstances of the case and should be determined bearing in mind the implications for sentencing set out in R v Canavan; R v Kidd; R v Shaw  1 W.L.R. 604,  1 Cr. App. R. 79,  1 Cr. App. R. (S.) 243.
Proving a ‘course of conduct’
Comparison to the general criminal law
Course of conduct and unanimity
Last updated: 21 July 2021