Simon Spence QC comments on Magistrates being given power to sentence cases for up to a year

January 19, 2022

The government has reported that Magistrates in England and Wales will have greater sentencing powers to enable them to take on more cases, under plans to clear court backlogs.

Magistrates could sentence cases from the current maximum of six months to the maximum sentence of a year allowing magistrates to hear cases often held in Crown Court.

Simon Spence QC responds to this believing the plans could backfire. Speaking to the East Anglian Daily Times he comments:

“Magistrates are volunteers and, while they receive some training, are not legally qualified. Equally they do not have the benefit of detailed sentencing guidelines such as exist in the Crown Court. A cardinal principle of sentencing is consistency across the country and I fear that this proposal will increase inconsistency from court to court, which would be a retrograde step.”

“Also, in deciding whether to plead guilty or not guilty and in deciding whether to stay in the Magistrates’ Court or elect trial by jury, defendants at present are influenced (and indeed advised as such) by the more limited sentencing powers of the Magistrates’ Court. If these powers are to become ​greater, it is likely that there will in fact be an increase in defendants electing trial by jury, thereby adding to the very problem that the government is trying to alleviate.”

Read more: East Anglian Daily Times