On 24 January, new sentencing guidelines were published that will be used in all magistrates courts in England and Wales. They have been introduced to reflect changes in the law since magistrates’ guidelines were last updated in 2008. This includes the increase in magistrates’ fining powers, which removed the £5,000 cap and allowed them to give unlimited fines. Since it was established in 2010, the Council has also made changes to the way sentencing guidelines are constructed.
It has introduced a more thorough and sophisticated approach to sentencing, which leads magistrates to assess the seriousness of an offence by looking at both the culpability of the offender and the harm the offending has caused. This approach has been applied to all the new guidelines, which will help to ensure consistency in sentencing in all magistrates courts across all the offences covered.
The main aim of the new guidelines is to help magistrates sentence fairly and proportionately by providing them with a clear, up-to-date set of guidelines that follow the same approach. The new guidelines are not intended to result in significant differences to current sentencing practice but they will bring changes to sentencing for some specific offences. The Sentencing Council is making these changes following a consultation held in 2016.
For speeding offences, the Council is introducing a new higher penalty for the most serious offenders. This follows calls from respondents to the consultation who said that the previous guidelines did not properly take into account the increase in potential harm that can result as speed above the speed limit increases. The Council has therefore increased the penalty for the top band of seriousness to ensure that there is clear increase in fine level as the seriousness of offending increases. This means fines for these offenders will have a starting point of 150 per cent of weekly income rather than the existing level of 100 per cent of weekly income.
In relation to animal cruelty, the guideline aims to ensure that the most serious cases lead to prison sentences, and that these sentences are of an appropriate length. For the first time, additional aggravating factors of “use of technology to publicise or promote cruelty” and ‘“animal being used in public service or as an assistance dog” are being included, the latter meaning that police dogs or horses are specifically highlighted.
For TV licence payment evasion offences, conditional discharges have been added as a sentencing option within the sentencing range for the lowest level offending.
The guidelines will be used to sentence adult offenders in all magistrates’ courts in England and Wales from 24 April. The new guidelines can be accessed on the Sentencing Council website.
MA National Chairman, Malcolm Richardson, said the new guidelines "will further help ensure the consistent effectiveness of the magistracy".