More Sentencing Powers to be Given to Magistrates

By Admin in Latest News on

Currently offenders sentenced by the Magistrates Court cannot be imprisoned for a period exceeding six months for a single offence, this is due to the powers of the magistrates being restricted by law. The Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has announced that the Government is planning to widen the magistrates powers to allow them to sentence defendants for up to 12 months' imprisonment for an either way offence. 

The proposed changes

When the changes do come into force they will impact both England and Wales. The powers inferred on the magistrates will be under the Sentencing Act 2020, Schedule 22. This enables a fast implementation of the new rules, although all magistrates will require significant training on their new powers the proposal seeks to make a positive change to the criminal justice system. 

The Current Position

Currently when charged with an offence a defendant's case will firstly go to the magistrates court, where their plea will be expected to be entered. Depending on the type of offence the matter can remain within the magistrates court or be sent to the crown court for trial or sentence. 

The more serious cases attract a higher sentence and this is one of the main reasons the magistrates decline jurisdiction over a case. The new proposal would allow the magistrates to take more cases which would ordinarily be sent to the crown court with a view to creating a more effective system. 

The government hopes that the changes will remove pressure from the crown court and lead to quicker justice for victims. The recent pandemic has caused unprecedented delays to the justice system and of June last year there was a record high of more than 60,000 crown court trials waiting to be heard. There are currently defendants sat in prison way beyond their custody time limit, waiting for their case to be heard. The government estimate that the new powers provided to magistrates will stop approximately 500 cases going to the the Crown Court, giving judges and extra 2000 days to handle more serious crime. 

The impact of the changes from a defence lawyers point of view.

This is not the first time the government has proposed changes to the powers of the magistrates court, the changes were put into law almost 20 years ago but never used. 

The government hope that implementing this now will create some space in the crown courts and allow for backlogs to be cleared. 

In reality it could be suggested the changes will make little difference and the real solution to the issues the criminal justice system face is funding. The courts real difficulty is low resources and the lack of effective systems in place to deliver justice efficiently. 

There is also a major concern that the magistrates are not the appropriate level of the judiciary to be deciding on restricting someones liberty for the proposed length of time. This is because they have no legal qualifications they have not been to law school nor have the specialised in any alternative legal education. As a result of this more appeals against sentence could be lodged, there could be a spike in the prison population or more defendants could exercise their right to go before a jury - increasing the pressures on the Crown Court rather than reducing them. It could therefore, could have a negative effect on the justice system and increase a crown courts case load. 

What is a magistrate?

Magistrates are volunteers who hear cases in the criminal and family courts. They are aided by a legal advisor who is legally qualified and will guide them on the law and legal procedures. 

To become a magistrate you do not need any qualifications but must be aged between 18 and 65 years old of good character among other desirable qualities. 

Magistrates undergo around 21 hours of training and they must be able to sit in court for at least 13 days a year. 

If you a family member or friend requires advice relating to court proceedings or police investigations police contact one of our specialist sexual offence lawyers on 0151 705 8488.