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LEGAL EAGLE: I’m worried that magistrates have greater sentencing powers

I am due to appear at the Magistrates Court in a few weeks for an alleged assault which I will be denying.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 12:00 am

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You should ensure that you approach a criminal solicitor for advice as soon as possible.
You should ensure that you approach a criminal solicitor for advice as soon as possible.

I am worried as I have heard the magistrates court have had their sentencing powers increased so that they can give much longer sentences than before. If this is true why has it happened and does this mean I could be treated more harshly than before?

Section 13 of the Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022 provides that from Monday, May 2, 2022, a magistrates’ court may impose a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment for a single offence that is triable either way in place of the current maximum of six months’ imprisonment.

The overall maximum sentence for an adult offender remains 12 months. This applies to offences committed on or after May 2, 2022.

An either way offence is one which can be dealt with at the magistrate’s court or the crown court.

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Offences not affected by this change are known as summary only offences which only the magistrates have jurisdiction over. In your case it will depend on the level of assault charge that you face.

Common assault is summary only, but Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) and some more serious assaults are either way offences.

For those facing two or more either way offences the magistrates already had a 12-month prison sentence available to them.

This change means that the magistrates can now impose 12 months for one either way offence whereas they were previously limited to six months for a single offence.

Some commentators suggest that the change has been brought in to reduce the backlog of criminal cases currently going through the crown court as the magistrates will be able to deal with cases now that deserve more than six months in prison.

Others are of the view that this change will do little to reduce cases at the crown court as many individuals may now elect to have their cases dealt with by juries at the crown court.

There is also a concern that keeping more cases at the magistrates could result in greater numbers of appeals which again will add to the number of cases awaiting resolution at the crown court.

Factors relating to sentencing or venue for your trial can be complex and will depend on the specific circumstances of any case. You should ensure that you approach a criminal solicitor for advice as soon as possible.