Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Stricter guidance for sentencing offenders who plead guilty

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One of the issues that the criminal justice system faces is to decide what incentives should be offered to those who are being prosecuted through the courts to plead guilty.

Legislation has for many years provided that sentencing discounts for early guilty pleas should be applied. (Criminal Justice Act 2003, s 144). Gudidance on how the power should be exercised was published in 2007.

Under s120(3)(a) the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 the Sentencing Council has been required to prepare new sentencing guidelines about the discharge of a court’s duty under

the 2003 Act. Following a period of research into how the current guidance is working, the Sentencing Council announced in February 2016 that it was consulting on new guidance on the reductions in sentence where a defendant pleads guilty.
In summary the Council proposes to bring forward the point at which a guilty plea must be made if the defendant is to obtain the maximum sentencing reduction.

It will do this by maintaining the current level of reduction (one third) for those who plead at the first stage of court proceedings, but giving a lower reduction than that available currently for a guilty plea entered any later in proceedings.

The stage at which an offender can benefit from the maximum one-third reduction will be much more tightly defined.

Under the Council’s proposals, to qualify for the maximum reduction, an offender must plead guilty the first time they are asked for their plea in court.

For offenders who plead guilty after that first stage the maximum reduction they can be given will be reduced to one-fifth, compared to one-quarter under the current process. Reductions then drop further the closer to the trial date the plea is entered.

It should be stressed that the reduction is expressed as a maximum – judges can deviate from the guidance in particular cases. Special considerations apply to murder cases.

The object of the proposed reforms is to try to ensure that more cases are dealt with by guilty plea, thereby reducing the resources required for trials.

The final guidance will be published following completion of the consultation, which runs until the middle of May 2016.

For further details see https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/consultations/reduction-in-sentence-for-a-guilty-plea-guideline-consultation/

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Written by lwtmp

February 18, 2016 at 6:58 pm

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