The pilot scheme is effective in certain local justice areas as of 18th June 2012.
If for an either way offence a Defendant pleads Not Guilty or gives no indication, the court must decide whether the offence should be sent to the Crown Court for trial.
The Court must have regard to:
- Nature of the case
- Circumstances of case (is offence more serious in character?)
- Any other factor making it more or less suitable for it to be tried at either venue.
The rationale behind the pilot scheme is that either way cases should be dealt with summarily unless the Magistrates’ sentencing powers are likely to be insufficient.
The Court should assess the likely sentence based on the prosecution facts as well as those aspects raised by the defence.
After conviction, the Magistrates still have a general power to commit to the Crown Court for sentence if their sentencing powers are insufficient.
If a Defendant enters a Not Guilty plea or gives no indication of plea and the Magistrates accept jurisdiction, a Defendant can ask for an indication of sentence. The Magistrates will indicate either custodial or non-custodial sentence. The Defendant can then reconsider the plea. If there is no change he can consent to summary trial. If not the case is sent to the Crown Court for trial.
If, having heard the indication of sentence, the Defendant wants to plead guilty, he will proceed to be sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court.
If the Defendant doesn’t request an indication of sentence and consents to summary trial, the trial will be heard in the Magistrates’ Court unless the prosecution apply for the case to be sent to the Crown Court.
If the Defendant doesn’t consent to summary trial, he is simply sent to the Crown Court for trial.
If the Defendant pleads not guilty or gives no indication and the Magistrates decline jurisdiction he is sent to the Crown Court for trial.
If the Defendant pleads guilty and the offence is so serious that a Crown Court should deal, he will be committed for sentence. If Magistrates’ sentencing powers are sufficient he will proceed to be sentenced.
It is said, ‘it is in the interests of victims and witnesses, and of the criminal justice system generally, that court procedures should be made as efficient as possible, for example by cutting out unnecessary court hearings’.
In Practice, it still takes just as long to get a date in the Crown Court!
Is this another cost cutting exercise? Well, as the committal hearing has gone, so has £318.00. Payment will now be under the relevant provisions of the funding order if discontinued or withdrawn after the case is sent to the Crown Court. If before a category 1A standard fee will apply.