The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 was passed in February 2015. It is a complex piece of legislation which deals with four broad topics:
- Part 1 Criminal Justice,
- Part 2 Youth Offenders,
- Part 3 Courts and tribunals, and
- Part 4 Judicial Review.
What follows is by no means a full analysis of the Act. It is a selective review of those matters that seem most relevant to the development of the English Legal System
Part 1 makes a number of detailed amendments to the law relating to those found guilty of very serious offences, such as terrorism offences. In some cases the maximum sentence is increased from 30 years to life imprisonment. In addition, the Parole Board is given new responsibilities to assess the risk of certain serious offenders, such as those convicted of serious terrorism or serious sexual and violent offences before they are released into the community. No longer will such offenders be entitled to automatic release halfway through a sentence.
Once released from prison on licence, there are increased powers to monitor such persons through the use of electronic tracking devices.
If an offender who has been released on licence is recalled, the decision about what should happen to him will in future be taken by a ‘recall adjudicator’ rather than being automatically being referred to the Parole Board for consideration. Since the Parole Board can itself be appointed a ‘recall adjudicator’ it will still be involved in some decisions, but in other cases the decision can be made by a single adjudicator rather than a panel drawn from the Board.
Sections 17-19 set out the restrictions on the use of cautions by the police which have long been promised by the Government. In essence, the more serious the alleged offence, the more restrictions on the use of cautions.
There are a number of offences created relating to wilful neglect by care workers.
In cases involving the murder of police or prison officers, where the sentence is life, the Act provides that the starting point for consideration of the minimum period of detention should be the whole life, rather than, as at present 30 years.
Part 2 deals with Youth Offenders. Currently, young offenders may be detained in young offender institutions, remand centres and secure training centres. The Act provides that in addition there can be established secure colleges – designed to place greater emphasis on the education of young offenders. The Act also provides for the contracting out of the provision of services relating to young offenders.
Among other detailed amendments, Section 41 amends the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 so that any youth caution or youth conditional caution given to a young person aged 17 must be given in the presence of an appropriate adult. That is already a requirement where a youth caution or youth conditional caution is given to a child or young person aged under 17.
Part 3 on Courts and tribunals among other things introduces a new single justice procedure whereby proceedings against adults charged with summary-only non-imprisonable offences can be considered by a single magistrate, on the papers. This will be without the attendance of either prosecutor or defendant. The defendant will be able to engage with the court in writing instead of attending a hearing; as neither prosecutors nor defence will be attending, the case will not need to be heard in a traditional courtroom.
The purpose of this new procedure is to deal more proportionately with straightforward, uncontested cases, involving offences such as failure to register a new vehicle keeper, driving without insurance, exceeding a 30mph speed limit, and TV licence evasion. In many of these cases the defendant is not present in court, either because they have chosen not to engage with the process or because the defendant has sent a written guilty plea. In such cases, the hearing takes place in an empty courtroom with only magistrates, prosecutors and court staff present. This procedure offers an alternative form of proceedings to help ensure that these cases are brought before the court at the earliest opportunity and dealt with more efficiently.
The Act introduces a new principle that those convicted of crimes should be required to make a contribution towards the costs of the criminal court. The details will appear in regulations in due course.
Part 3 also extends the potential use of ‘leap-frogging’ – enabling cases that are clearly going to go to the Supreme Court to get there directly, without the need for a hearing in the Court of Appeal.
Part 3 also raises the age limit for jurors to 75. It also creates new offences that may be committed by jurors – e.g. using social media during a trial.
Part 4 – on changes to Judicial review – will be the subject of a separate blog entry.
The Act and accompanying explanatory notes can be found at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/2/contents