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Magistrates’ new jailing powers come in to force

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(3 May 2022)

The government has come under fire again for letting magistrates sentence people for up to a year in prison after the controversial power came into force yesterday.

The Ministry of Justice said the latest measure, announced in January, will free up to an extra 1,700 days of Crown court time annually.

Previously, magistrates could only issue a maximum six-month prison sentence, with cases warranting a longer custodial sentence being sent to the Crown court. They will now be able to sentence cases such as fraud, theft and assault. 

The ministry said the Judicial College has provided all magistrates and legal advisers with ‘robust training’.

The department’s press release did not contain details of the training. Last month magistrates were informed they must complete half a day’s training prior to their new powers commencing, to be followed by webinars arranged locally in April and May.

Justice secretary Dominic Raab said today: ‘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 power was once again criticised.

Jon Black, a former president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, said: ‘Removing from society for six months (of a 12-month sentence) is too serious, has an incredibly wide knock-on effect and should be the presenter of professional judges with years of legal experience and training, not volunteers with spare time to give.’

High-profile blogger Secret Barrister said the new power would increase appeals from the magistrates’ court to the Crown court.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)