In a move which is to be welcomed by all those with involvement in the Criminal Justice System for reasons outlined below, the Sentencing Council has today published proposals for revisions to 27 varied offences contained within the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines (“the MCSG”).
The Council is now seeking the views of people interested in criminal sentencing on these proposals, in a 12-week consultation period which will last until 11 August 2016. It is anticipated that this will be the first stage of a revision of all magistrates’ guidelines.
What are the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines?
The MCSG is one of a number of guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council, and is used by the courts in order to determine appropriate sentences for offenders.
The use of these guidelines is not optional. There is a statutory obligation on magistrates to refer to sentencing guidelines and they are only permitted to depart from these guidelines if to do otherwise would be contrary to the interests of justice (s. 125 (1) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009).
Whilst many of the guidelines issued are offence-specific, the MCSG is not restricted in this way. Indeed, it covers most of the offences regularly coming before the magistrates’ courts, ranging from animal cruelty cases to motoring matters. Its importance cannot, therefore, be overstated.
Review and Consultation
The aim of the review, as stated by Sentencing Council member and magistrate Jill Gramann, is:
“To ensure magistrates in England and Wales have clear guidance using a consistent approach to help them sentence fairly and proportionately.”
The current proposals concern 27 “summary only” offences contained within the MCSG. Summary only offences are those which can only be dealt with in the magistrates’ courts .The offences under review are:
- Alcohol sale offences – Licensing Act 2003, s.141; s.146; s.147
- Animal cruelty – Animal Welfare Act 2006, s.4; s.8 and s.9
- Careless driving – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.3
- Communication network offences – Communications Act 2003, s.127(1)
- Communication network offences – Communications Act 2003 s.127(2)
- Drive whilst Disqualified – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.103
- Drugs – fail to attend/remain for initial assessment –Drugs Act 2005, s.12
- Drugs – fail/refuse to provide a sample – Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, s.63B
- Drunk and disorderly in a public place – Criminal Justice Act 1967, s.91
- Excess alcohol (drive/attempt) – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.5(1)(a)
- Excess alcohol (in charge) – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.5(1)(b)
- Fail to provide specimen for analysis (drive/attempt) – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.7(6)
- Fail to provide specimen for analysis (in charge) – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.7(6)
- Fail to stop/report road accident – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.170(4)
- Football related offences – Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985, s.2(1) and s.2(2), Football Offences Act 1991, s.2, s.3 and s.4 and Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, s.166
- No insurance – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.143
- Obstruct/resist a police constable in execution of duty – Police Act 1996, s.89(2)
- Railway fare evasion – Regulation of Railways Act 1889, s.5(1) and s.5(3)
- School non-attendance – Education Act 1996, s.444 (1) and s.444(1A)
- Sexual activity in a public lavatory – Sexual Offences Act 2003, s.71
- Speeding – Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, s.89 (10)
- Taxi Touting/soliciting for hire – Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, s.167
- TV licence payment evasion – Communications Act 2003, s.363
- Unfit through drink or drugs (drive/attempt) – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.4 (1)
- Unfit through drink or drugs (in charge) – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.4 (2)
- Vehicle interference – Criminal Attempts Act 1981, s.9
- Vehicle taking, without consent – Theft Act 1968, s.12
The revised guidelines when produced will apply to all offenders aged 18 and over, whether sentenced on or after the date it comes into force, and regardless of the date of the offence.
Time for Change?
The Sentencing Council’s review and the consultation of the MCSG is long overdue and ought to be welcomed.
The current guidelines are outdated, the last comprehensive update having taken place as long ago as 2008. The Council’s proposals serve to introduce a new standard approach to sentencing, which applies regardless of the type of the offence being considered. It encourages the courts to adopt a more methodical approach, leaving less scope for maverick decision-making by magistrates and hopefully ensuring a fairer and more consistent approach to sentencing across England and Wales.
The Council has indicated that it would be receptive to input from practitioners in the area and others with an interest:
“We are keen to hear people’s views of our proposed changes, whether they are magistrates, others working the criminal justice system or anyone else with an interest in this area of sentencing.”
There may well, then, be further changes before the final revised guidelines are published.
Olliers Solicitors – Specialist Criminal Defence
Written by Sami Halpern. Sami is a trainee currently in our Magistrates’ Department who joined Olliers Solicitors in 2015. Sami graduated from the University of Liverpool in 2011 with a First Class degree in law. Sami is currently undertaking his training to become an accredited police station representative.