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sentencing guidelines on credit for guilty pleas

In Caley and others [2012] EWCA 2821 the Court of Appeal gave judgment in a number of conjoined appeals after setting out certain fundamental principles arising from its interpretation of the sentencing Guidelines Council guidance document on reduction of sentence for pleas of guilty. It made reference to the relevant statutory provision (section 144(1) Criminal Justice Act 2003) and, in particular, to the fact that the provision refers to the timing of the Defendant's indication of his intention to plead guilty rather than the actual entering of the plea. The Court went on to state why it is appropriate to award reductions in sentence for those who plead guilty and cited the reduction of the impact of the crime for the victim, the impact on those who have to give evidence and the considerable expenditure in public time and money on trials and preparation for trials. The Court noted that, in fact, approximately 75% of cases before the Crown Court result in pleas of guilty. The Court went on to make the following important statements of principle regarding credit for guilty pleas:

1. The question of when the defendant's first opportunity arose for pleading guilty is a matter for the sentencing judge but admissions in police interview will be additional mitigation;

2. There will certainly be cases where a defendant genuinely does not know whether he is guilty or not and needs advice and/or sight of the evidence in order to decide;

3. The first reasonable opportunity for pleading guilty will normally either be at the Magistrates Court or immediately on arrival at the Crown Court not at the PCMH;

4. A plea of guilty at a PCMH will ordinarily not be significantly different from a plea notified shortly after it;

5. Even in an overwhelming case the guilty plea has a distinct public benefit;

6. However tempting for courts to avoid reduction in sentence for a guilty plea where the statutory maximum sentence is low this should be avoided;

7. The holding of a Newton Hearing will impact upon credit;

8. Three examples where there ought to be residual flexibility are murder, poor advice and exceptionally long and complex trials whether in fraud, people trafficking or complex drugs cases.


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