A new system for allocating cases between the Magistrates Court and the Crown Court has been extended to cover additional courts including those throughout Greater Manchester. From 5th November, 2012 a number of changes have been introduced including the abolition of committal proceedings.
These changes mainly relate to “either way cases”, that is, matters that can be dealt with in either the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. As has been the case previously the Magistrates decide at the outset of the proceedings which court will deal with a case. However, when reaching this decision, they now have sight of any previous convictions a person may have as well as having regard to the sentencing guidelines for the particular offence. If the Magistrates decide that the matter should be dealt with in the Crown Court the case is transferred directly, removing the often lengthy committal procedure.
In a further change, if the Magistrates decide that the case can be dealt with in the Magistrates Court, it is now possible to seek an indication from them as to what sort of sentence they would impose if a guilty plea were to be entered. The Magistrates do not have to give an indication and if they do it is confined to whether a custodial or non custodial sentence would be more likely.
The removal of the committal procedure will reduce delays as it has sometimes taken several months for a case to proceed through the Magistrates Court. However there will no longer be the detailed scrutiny of these cases in the Magistrates Court. It is also to be hoped that the Crown Courts will have sufficient resources both to deal with cases at an earlier stage and to accommodate what are likely to be increased numbers of cases proceeding to the Crown Court.