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New sentencing guidelines intended to encourage guilty pleas are to be consulted on in England and Wales. As things currently stand defendants can have their sentence reduced by up to a third if they plead guilty at “the first reasonable opportunity”. This is applicable in England and Wales as well as Northern Ireland and has been open to interpretation by different judges.

Under new draft guidelines, the sliding scale for sentencing reductions would be:

  • One-third – for an offender who offers a guilty plea the first time he or she is asked in a court
  • One-fifth – the maximum available to someone who pleads guilty at a later opportunity but before the first day of trial. (The current maximum reduction in those circumstances is one-quarter)
  • One-tenth – the maximum for anyone who changes to a guilty plea on day one of their trial
  • Zero – for any offender who waits until part way through a trial to plead guilty

It is a long standing principle set out by Parliament to take into consideration a guilty plea when deciding what sentence an offender should receive. However, concerns have been raised that these new guidelines will ‘reward’ those who are guilty of committing an offence.

The council have stated that “it is important to recognise that a guilty plea reduction is in place to provide an incentive and not a reward.” Chairman Lord Justice Treacy explains the rationale behind the new proposed sentencing guidelines. “We want those who have committed crimes to admit their guilt as early as possible. When they do, it means victims and witnesses can be reassured that the offender has accepted responsibility for what they have done and that they are spared having to appear at court to testify. It also means that the police and Crown Prosecution Service can use their resources more efficiently to investigate and prosecute other cases.”

As stated earlier these proposed sentencing guidelines are currently being consulted on in England and Wales. If accepted it is surely only a matter of time before being introduced in this jurisdiction – so watch this space.

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