Magistrates eager for new powers
Magistrates are set to be handed new powers to sentence more convicted criminals under reforms unveiled by justice minister Damian Green today.
Green is proposing that around 4,000 defendants each year are dealt with in the magistrates' court rather than being sent to the crown court for sentencing.
The move is expected to save the Ministry of Justice significant sums, as a magistrates' court at £1,400 per day costs less than the £2,150 daily bill for a crown court sitting day.
It will mean the 23,500 magistrates in England and Wales – who receive training but are volunteer members of the community – get substantial new powers.
At present all cases with a potential sentence of six months or over must be transferred from magistrates to crown court.
But the Magistrates Association, which has welcomed today's proposals, is set to seek a change in the rules to allow it to make convictions on cases where the maximum sentence is 12 months.
"This is a clear demonstration of both the government's commitment to magistrates and its confidence in the magistracy," a spokesperson told Politics.co.uk.
"We've been looking to try to get 12-month custody [cases] because we believe we could deal with things much more efficiently."
A formal consultation on the proposals will be launched later this year.
Around 9,800 defendants were convicted by magistrates and then sent to the crown court for sentencing in 2012.
"Four out of ten defendants sent to the crown court for sentencing received custodial sentences that could have been handed in the magistrates' court – we need to look at why this is happening and if we need to do more to make the best use of magistrates," Green said in a speech today.
"We need to keep the right cases in the right court if we are to have a modern justice system in a fair society."