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Magistrates: Sentencing Powers

Volume 720: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2022

We extended magistrates courts’ sentencing powers from a maximum of six months’ imprisonment to 12 months’ imprisonment for single triable either way offences in April of this year. We estimate this will save up to 1,700 Crown court sitting days a year, and we are keeping the impact of these increased powers under review.

That does not really answer my question, although I thank the Minister for his response. My question is whether he intends to extend the sentencing powers further. Although I obviously share his desire to tackle backlogs and reduce waiting times in the Crown courts, concerns have been raised that further increasing the sentencing powers of magistrates is not the right way to go about this. More defendants may elect to be tried in Crown courts anyway, and expanded powers could result in higher sentences, putting even more pressure on already overcrowded prisons and leading to an increase in Crown court appeals. What consideration has he given to these concerns, and what alternatives are there?

I make no apologies for locking up criminals. I have confidence in the good blend of district judges and justices of the peace in the magistrates courts. We have not seen how the existing increase in powers has been borne out, and we have not seen what the impact will be. We will keep that under review and, until we have that information, I cannot add anything further.