• Pasqueline Agostinho

Magistrates given powers to jail offenders for a year

Magistrates will be given powers to jail offenders a maximum of a year under powers granted by the government.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab announced today that the maximum sentence for one offence will be doubled from the current maximum six month sentence to 12 months. It will also mean that Magistrates Courts like Uxbridge will be allowed to sentence more cases such as theft, fraud and assault.

Magistrates do not need any legal experience, although they undergo mandatory training for three and a half days before sitting in court guided by a mentor for a year. After a year, they are regularly assessed by a specially trained magistrate.

The decision has been welcomed by the Magistrates Association as they had “been advocating for this change for more than a decade”.

Bev Higgs, the National Chair of the Magistrates' Association, said:

“We have been campaigning for years for magistrates’ sentencing powers to be extended to 12 months for single offences, so we are delighted with the Lord Chancellor’s announcement today. It is absolutely the right time to realign where cases are heard to ensure a safe, effective, and efficient justice system and this demonstrates great confidence in the magistracy. Magistrates have been integral in keeping the justice system functioning during the Covid-19 pandemic and, by enabling them to hear more serious offences, this new provision will mean they can contribute to easing the extreme pressure on the Crown Courts. I know our members and colleagues will take up this new level of responsibility with pride, professionalism, and integrity and will – as always – strive to deliver the highest quality of justice in their courts.”

Brunel University lecturer, Kenn Toft, who is also a magistrate said: “In my view, it's only an extension of powers. I can see how it will free up the crown court but everyone that pleads not guilty will still be given the opportunity to have their case heard in the crown court before a jury so if they all elect that then it will not free up much time at all. I think that by giving magistrates extra power the hope is that the cases will all stay in the magistrate's court but that seems to be second-guessing what the defendants will do.

“For me it will not impact my job as a magistrate, it will simply mean that we have additional powers. It will however mean that the court clerks and those who write the bench guidelines will have to review all the guidelines in order to provide us with the relevant material that we need before we pass the sentence.”

These changes will only apply to either-way offences which means defendants can still have their case by a jury in a Crown Court if they wish.

As of June of last year, there was a record high of more than 60,000 Crown Court trials waiting to be heard.

Boris Johnson said it would "help tackle the backlog of cases in the Crown Courts - speeding up justice for victims, punishing those guilty of serious crimes and building back stronger and safer from the pandemic".


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