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Magistrates push for greater powers

17 September 2010

Magistrates should have their sentencing powers doubled so they can jail offenders for up to a year, the Magistrates Association has argued in a submission to the Ministry of Justice.

This would bring cases of “medium seriousness”, such as possession of a bladed weapon or dangerous driving, particularly if there was a guilty plea, within magistrates’ powers.

While supporting the right to a Crown Court jury trial for the most serious offences, the association said the delay and cost involved was not justified for “some low-value and low-level offences such as minor theft”.

Theft below £5,000 could be made a summary-only offence, the association suggested, bringing it into line with criminal damage. Alternatively, mode of trial could be made a “purely judicial decision” based on the seriousness of the offence.

“A further suggestion could be to give Crown Court judges the power to order that defence legal aid costs should be paid at the magistrates’ court rates – where the magistrates’ court had accepted jurisdiction but the defendant had elected jury trial.”

The judicial policy and practice committee recommended three other changes: easing the restrictions on committing for sentence after trial, requiring the magistrates to assume “that the prosecution version of the facts is correct” when determining mode of trial and reviewing the guidelines issued on mode of trial.

The association said it was “incontrovertible” from the most recent statistics that the Crown Court was sentencing more indictable, including either way, offences and the magistrates’ courts were sentencing fewer.

Categorised in:

Contracts & Rights Procedures Costs Courts & Judiciary