The Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022 ('the Act'), which received Royal Assent on 28 April 2022, increased Magistrates sentencing powers from a maximum of six months for a single offence to a maximum of one year. It is hoped that the increase will result in fewer cases being referred to the Crown Court by Magistrates due to insufficient sentencing powers and free up Crown Court resource to deal with 'more serious, complicated cases'.
Some critics are sceptical that the increase will have the desired outcome. For many offences, a Defendant can choose to have their case heard in either the Magistrates' or Crown Court. Although sentencing powers in the Crown Court are greater, the common perception is that Magistrates are harsher with sentencing and, with the increase in powers, we are likely to see more Defendants take a chance at obtaining an acquittal by Jury or a more lenient sentence in the Crown Court.
In addition, as a result of the possibility of longer prison sentences, we will likely see an increase in appeals of Magistrates' sentences to the Crown Court where Defendant's feel that they have been unduly harsh.
Finally, there is concern that greater sentencing powers generally will result in an increased, and unmanageable, prison population due to the comparatively swift nature of processing cases at the Magistrates.
There is no doubt that, for a number of reasons, there is a significant delay in processing cases through the Court system. Whether increased sentencing powers for Magistrates is successful in helping clear that backlog, or contributes further to it, is yet to be seen.
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