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Guideline on reduction in sentence for a guilty plea

16 March 2017

The Sentencing Council for England and Wales has issued a new guideline. It applies equally in magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court, to all individual offenders aged 18 and older, and to organisations, in cases where the first hearing is after May 31 2017, regardless of the date of the offence.

There will be a five-step approach to determine the appropriate sentence:

  1. to determine the guilty plea reduction
  2. state the amount of that reduction
  3. apply it to the appropriate sentence
  4. follow any further steps if there are any offence-specific guidelines
  5. arrive at the final sentence

Unlike the current process, the maximum reduction of 1/3 will now be awarded for a guilty plea, provided that such plea is indicated at the first stage of proceedings regardless of the strength of the evidence. There is then a sliding scale of reductions (1/4 down to 1/10th maximum) depending on when a guilty plea is ultimately entered in the court process.

The guideline is clearly aimed at encouraging those who are intending to plead guilty to do so as early in the court process as possible. There are specific exceptions laid out in relation to these new sentencing guidelines and also some general exceptions. These general exceptions may cause problems, particularly for any clients who find them facing regulatory charges such as breach of Health & Safety or certain Consumer legislation, where consideration may be necessary as to whether a defendant can establish a defence on a balance of probabilities where a reverse burden of proof is required. If the court is satisfied that there were particular circumstances which significantly reduced the defendant’s ability to understand what was alleged or otherwise made it unreasonable to indicate a guilty plea sooner than was done, a reduction of 1/3 should still be made. The Guidance does not attempt to define “significantly” or “unreasonable” so it may be interesting to see how this is dealt with by Judge’s in such circumstances.

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