From this month (May 2022), Magistrates sentencing powers have doubled to allow them to impose a 12-month prison sentence for a single offence rather than the 6-month maximum which was previously in place for more serious cases.
The increase in sentencing powers has been granted in a bid to tackle a huge backlog of cases in the Courts which increased significantly as a result of the lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
justice secretary Dominic Raab said:
“We are doing everything in our power to bring down the court backlog, and doubling the sentencing powers of magistrates will create more capacity in the Crown Court to hear the most serious cases.
Together with an extra 30 Nightingale courtrooms currently open, digital hearings and allowing the Crown Court to hear as many cases as possible for another financial year, we will deliver swifter and more effective justice for victims. The new sentencing powers only apply to offences that were committed on or after 02 May 2022.”
The Ministry of Justice stated that Magistrates and legal advisors had been provided with robust training ahead of this latest change to “guarantee they know how to best use these new powers to deliver justice effectively”. However, a notice which was reportedly issued by the Judicial College suggested that just half a day’s training followed by webinars would be all that would be provided, The notice said:
‘This new training is essential for those magistrates and legal advisers. It will take approximately ½ day to complete, must be completed prior to implementation of the provisions…and will be followed by webinars arranged locally in April/May. (This eLearning is modular and progress will be saved so it does not have to be completed in one sitting,’
Whilst the Judicial office has since said that the Judiciary considerers the training provision is appropriate, one has to question the level of confidence you would have in the fairness of such a harsh sentence if you were personally handed a 12-month prison sentence.
Remembering of course that Magistrates are unpaid volunteers from the local community who are not required to have any legal qualifications or sit exams and receive only around three and a half days training before sitting in Court.
It is therefore highly likely that individuals receiving such harsh punishments will seek to appeal their sentence to the Crown Court, thereby undermining the very intention (reducing the Crown Court backlog) of the changes in the first place.
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