More Trials to be Heard in the Magistrates’ Court?

Written 29th February 2016 by Olliers Solicitors

On the 1st March 2016 revised definitive allocation guidelines published by the Sentencing Council last year will come into effect.

Which Court will Hear my Case?

With the aim of speeding up hearing times across the county, helping to ease any backlog of cases and reducing cost, the revised guidelines will be incorporated into the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines and will issue further instruction on helping courts determine whether a case should be dealt with at the magistrates’ court or the crown court.

These guidelines will apply to all defendants in the magistrates’ court including youths who are jointly charged with an adult and whos cases are dealt with on or after the 1st March 2016. They will not apply however to youth court proceedings as a separate statutory procedure applies.

Following a consultation period and as part of recommendations made by Sir Brian Levenson’s Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings, the new revised allocation guidelines were published. In total 48 responses were received to help clarify the guidelines for implementation and will help ease the strain on victims as well as witnesses.

The Allocation Guidelines

The main features of the guidelines are;

  1. It is important to ensure that all cases are tried at the appropriate level.
  2. Either-way offences should be tried summarily unless the outcome would clearly be a sentence in excess of the court’s powers for the offence after taking into account personal mitigation and reduction for a guilty plea or for reasons of unusual legal, procedural or factual complexity the case should be tried in the crown court.
  3. In cases with no factual or legal complications the court should bear in mind its power to commit for sentence after trial and may retain jurisdiction notwithstanding that the likely sentence may exceed its powers.
  4. Cases may be tried summarily even where the defendant is subject to a suspended sentence in the crown court or crown court community order.
  5. All parties should be asked by the court to make representations as to whether the case is suitable for summary trial.

Allocation and Sentence

The guidelines state the importance of each case to be tried at the appropriate level and to ensure that the court will have the power to issue the appropriate sentence for the given offence. It is important to note that the level of sentence will not be influenced and where the court decides that the case is suitable to be dealt with at the magistrates’ court, all sentencing options will remain open.

More Trials in the Magistrates’ Court

As such, whilst some cases will remain in the crown court, it is likely we will see more and more trials being conducted in the magistrates’ court. However, this does not mean that sentences may be reduced. If a defendant is convicted after trial or pleads guilty to an offence then they could be committed to the crown court for full sentencing.

Olliers Solicitors – Specialist Criminal Defence

Please contact Olliers Solicitors should you have any concern about how these new guidelines may affect your case. Written by Saskia Abbot. Saskia is a solicitor currently based in our magistrates’ court department, managing a variety of cases on a day to day basis.

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