On 2 May 2022, the Government gave Magistrates the power to impose a sentence of up to 12-months’ custody for a single triable either way offence (Section 224(1A) of the Sentencing Act 2020 inserted by section 13(1)(b) of the Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022). It was hoped that doubling the Magistrates’ sentencing powers would help to tackle the backlog of cases awaiting resolution in the Crown Court, which at the time was just under 60,000 in number. It was anticipated that up to 1,700 extra days of Crown Court time would be freed per year by the increasing of Magistrates’ powers.
Yesterday, less than a year on, the Government announced that from 30 March 2023 the Magistrates’ sentencing powers will be reduced back to the original power to impose a sentence of up to 6-months’ custody for a single triable either way offence (Regulation 2 of the Sentencing Act 2020 (Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Powers) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 (SI 2023 298).) Some may consider this unsurprising given the current issues relating to overcrowding of prisons:
This will be a welcome reversal of what many felt was a counterproductive initiative. The extension of the Magistrates’ sentencing powers was heavily criticised when proposed. The Criminal Bar Association raised concerns that the reform would increase short prison sentences, result in more defendants electing to go to Crown Court for trial, and lead to more appeals to the Crown Court. Conversely, the Magistrates Association expressed disappointment about the reversal, cautioned about resignations, and said it would be urging the Government to restore the extended powers as soon as possible.