Reduction in Magistrates’ Sentencing Powers

Criminal lawyers working in the magistrates’ courts of England and Wales have had to advise their lay clients of a risk of up to 12 months’ imprisonment (or YOI detention) in the cases of either way offences since the enactment of s.224 (1A) of the Sentencing Act 2020.

Sch.23 Paragraph 14A of the Sentencing Act 2020 gave the Secretary of State the power to amend the limit on the sentencing powers of the magistrates using Regulations (i.e. by statutory instrument). One such set of Regulations was laid before Parliament at the close of play on 9th March 2023.

From 30th March 2023, the Sentencing Act 2020 (Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Powers) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 will reduce those sentencing powers in the following way:

Amendment of section 224(1A)(b) of the Sentencing Act 2020
2. In section 224(1A)(b) of the Sentencing Act 2020(b) for “12 months” substitute “6 months”.

Accordingly, the sentencing limits from 30th March 2023 will be 6 months in the case of a summary offence and 6 months (instead of 12 months) in the case of an offence triable either way.

Of course, nothing changes the fact that, where the court decides that a case is suitable to be dealt with in the magistrates’ court, it must warn the defendant that all sentencing options remain open and, if the defendant consents to summary trial and is convicted by the court or pleads guilty, the defendant may be committed to the Crown Court for sentence.

Typically, there are no legal limitations on committing an either way case for sentencing after a conviction.. However, a magistrate’s court can exercise its authority to commit the case to the Crown Court for sentencing if it determines that the offence committed, or the combination of offences committed, is so severe that the Crown Court should be able to administer the same range of sentence as if the offender had been convicted on indictment.

In instances where a case is tried summarily and results in a conviction for offences relating to criminal damage, a magistrate’s court does not have the power to commit the case to the Crown Court for sentencing.

To arrive at an appropriate sentence that takes into account all relevant factors, such as personal circumstances and the degree of guilt, a sentencing court should consult relevant guidelines.

If there is uncertainty about the appropriate course of action in borderline cases, the court may consider requesting a pre-sentence report before deciding whether to commit the case to the Crown Court for sentencing. If the offence committed is serious enough that the Crown Court should have the power to deal with the offender, the convicting magistrate’s court should commit the case to the Crown Court for sentencing, even if a community order is ultimately deemed the most appropriate sentence. This will give the Crown Court the ability to deal with any future breaches of the community order.