Aldous calls for increase in magistrates’ custodial sentencing powers

MP for Waveney Peter Aldous this week called for magistrates’ custodial sentencing powers to be increased from six to 12 months so that Magistrates Courts can play an enhanced role in delivering justice.

Speaking in Justice Questions, Mr Aldous raised the point that greater powers for magistrates to give longer sentences would enable sentencing to be enacted quicker and fairer and would allow magistrates to project an understanding of the local communities they serve.

The issue has generated concern following an increase in cases being referred to the Crown Court, which coupled with the tightening up of legal aid, has resulted in a more costly and slower legal process. The cost of a trial in a Magistrates’ Court is much cheaper than in the Crown Court.

The Magistrates’ Courts system involves members of the community and provides a wider cross-section of society then those in Crown Courts. Since magistrates have to live within 15 miles of the area, it is intended that they should have a local knowledge of particular problems in the area.

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice gave his assurances that the Ministry for Justice is considering the case for increasing magistrates’ custodial sentencing and showed recognition for the important role that magistrates play in society.

Mr Aldous said:
“Magistrates are already taking a proactive role in the criminal justice system, although more could be done to save money and time by transferring work to the magistrates’ courts, as well as ensuring that the justice system reflects the local area that they represent.”

John Fassenfelt JP, Chairman of the Magistrates' Association, said:

"The Magistrates' Association is very grateful to Mr Aldous for raising this important issue on the floor of the House.

Magistrates deal with 92% of all criminal cases in England and Wales, with trials costing on average £3000 less than the Crown Court. Magistrates already sentence up to two years in youth court and an increase in magistrates’ sentencing powers from a maximum of 6 months to a maximum of 12 months will enable magistrates to deal with slightly more serious cases. This change will reap major savings of up to £40million per year for the criminal justice system, plus bringing advantages for victims and witnesses".

FULL TEXT:

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): Has the Secretary of State considered increasing the maximum sentences available to magistrates from six to 12 months, so that justice can be delivered more efficiently, fairly and quickly by magistrates who live in, and have a good understanding of, the communities they serve?

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Damian Green): We are considering the case for increasing magistrates’ custodial sentencing powers in the way that my hon. Friend and, indeed, the Magistrates Association has suggested. I agree that magistrates have a very important role to play in our society and we should be thankful for the work they put in. We are exploring other ways to make use of the skills and expertise they bring.

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