New powers for magistrates to jail offenders for up to a YEAR in bid to beat courts backlog
- Dominic Raab said the move would free 2,000 days of Crown Court time a year
- There is a backlog of 60,000 Crown Court cases and 300,000 in magistrates’
- The new powers will come into force ‘in coming months’, according to the MoJ
- But legislation will come with an ‘off switch’ so the new powers can be revoked
Magistrates are to get more sentencing powers in a push to tackle the backlog in the courts.
They will be able to jail offenders for up to 12 months under measures announced by Dominic Raab today, doubling the current maximum.
The Justice Secretary said the move will free up around 2,000 days of Crown Court time a year, as fewer cases will have to be referred to a judge for sentencing.
He said: ‘Along with the Nightingale courts, digital hearings and unlimited sitting days, we will deliver swifter and more effective justice.’
Bev Higgs, chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, said: ‘We have been campaigning for years for magistrates’ sentencing powers to be extended, so we are delighted with the announcement.’
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: ‘Along with the Nightingale courts, digital hearings and unlimited sitting days, we will deliver swifter and more effective justice.’
Figures show more than 60,000 Crown Court cases are outstanding in England and Wales, plus more than 300,000 in magistrates’ courts.
Powers to increase magistrates’ maximum sentencing powers were first passed into law in 2003 – but have never been brought into force.
The changes are limited to ‘triable-either-way’ offences meaning that defendants can still opt to have their case heard by a jury.
Crown Courts currently have a backlog of 60,000 cases in England and Wales while magistrates’ courts have 300,000 cases pending. Pictured: Brighton Magistrates’ Court
They will come into force ‘in the coming months’, a Ministry of Justice spokesman said.
Legislation will include what the spokesman described as an ‘off switch’, so ministers can revert to a lower maximum sentence in magistrates’ courts.
It may be necessary to bring an end to the measures if the prison population becomes too high, for example.