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The new rules

A revised definitive guideline on reduction in sentence for a guilty plea now applies in any case where the first hearing is on or after 1 June 2017. This affects anyone over 18 – or any company – facing criminal proceedings in which there has not already been a court hearing.

The aim of the guideline is “to encourage defendants who are going to plead guilty to do so as early in the court process as possible” but it is not intended to be used to put pressure on defendants to do so. Defendants faced with making an immediate choice between pleading guilty without sight of any evidence or losing potential credit may struggle to see the difference.

The maximum level of reduction in sentence remains at one-third but there are significant changes.

The previous guidance recommended a lower reduction for guilty pleas to offences which can be tried in either the Magistrates or Crown Court if the plea was not entered until the Crown Court hearing. The difference, however, was marginal, with the reduction changed from a third to 30%. The importance of the decision at the plea before venue stage is now much greater with the reduction cut to 25% if the plea is not entered until the case reaches the Crown Court.

What is more, the new guideline applies to indictable only offences with the same drop from 33% to 25% if the guilty plea is not ‘indicated’ in the Magistrates’ Court hearing. Appendix 3 to the guideline sets this out with a flowchart showing two options: sending to the Crown Court (where a plea has been indicated) and sending to the Crown Court for trial (where there has been no indication). As a matter of law, an adult defendant charged with an indictable offence can only be sent for trial to the Crown Court. However the new guideline reflects the expectation that guilty pleas will be indicated even at a stage when the court asking for the indication cannot record a plea.

Read the full article here.

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