Sentencing Council proposes definitive guidelines for maximum credit for guilty pleas
Under new proposed guidelines produced by the Sentencing Council a definitive sliding scale of credit for guilty pleas is proposed according to when the guilty plea is entered. The reductions range from one-third at the first stage of the proceedings down to one-tenth on the first day of trial.
Sentencing Council Chair Lord Justice Treacy said:-
“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”.
The first stage of the proceedings (for offenders aged 18 and over) is the first point at which the charge is put to the defendant in court and a plea (or indication thereof) is sought. For summary only offences this is up to an including the first hearing at the magistrates’ court; for either way offences up to and including the allocation hearing at the magistrates’ court and for indictable only offense up to and including the first hearing at the Crown Court. If a defendant were to plead guilty at those stages then they would be entitled to the full maximum credit of one-third.
The next level of credit is for those entering a plea after the first stage of the proceedings where the maximum level decreases to one-fifth. For summary offences this would be up to 14 days after the first hearing; for either way offences sent to the Crown Court this would be up to and including the first hearing at the Crown Court and for indictable only offences this would be not more than 28 days after the prosecutor states it has complied with his duties regarding disclosure of Unused Material under section 3 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996.
Thereafter the scale of available credit for plea decreases to one-tenth on the first day of trial, this may be reduced to zero where a guilty plea is entered during the trial.
The proposed guidelines list exceptions where the strict scale may not be applied and include where the defendant requires further information and advice before indicating a plea due to insufficient information/evidence being provided at an early stage. A reduction of the maximum of one-third is still available where a guilty plea is indicated immediately after the defendant receives advice and/or sees the evidence.
In practice whilst initially these proposed guidelines seem strict and definitive there is clear provision for the maximum credit to be preserved until sufficient disclosure has been provided by the prosecutor to enable proper legal advice to be given. In situations where the prosecutor has failed to provide sufficient information to fully advise a client as to plea practitioners will have to ensure that they preserve their client’s position by confirming such in writing at an early stage. Given that the proposed guidelines explicitly state exceptions to the proposed sliding scale it would be hoped that Judges would still be encouraged to properly balance the circumstances of an individual’s case against the proposed scale.
Click here to access the proposed guidelines
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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.