ALLOCATION OF EITHER WAY OFFENCES IN MAGISTRATES COURT (ENGLAND AND WALES)

These reforms only relate to Magistrates Court in England and Wales.

Abolition of Committal proceedings and allocation of either way offences in Magistrates Court

The abolition of committal proceedings ends the responsibility of Magistrates to be “examining justices”, deciding whether there is a case which justifies trial in the Crown Court. For several years Magistrates’ Courts have sent the most serious (indictable only) offences to the Crown Court.
Under the new arrangements, Magistrates will “allocate” either-way offences to be tried in either Crown or Magistrates’ Courts. In deciding whether to allocate a case to the Crown Court Magistrates are asked simply to consider whether, if the defendant is convicted, their powers of punishment are sufficient.

New aspects of Allocation Procedures on either way offences in Magistrates Court:

  • Before making an allocation decision the magistrates will be told of any previous conviction of the defendant
  • The giving of limited sentence indication, this should encourage defendants charged with a less serious offence to plead guilty in the Magistrates’ Court rather than delay their plea until they are sent to the Crown Court. A guilty plea in Magistrates Court can lead to a lesser sentence than waiting to plead guilty in crown Court.

New Procedures for allocating either way offences in Magistrates Court.

New procedures require:

  • The court to read the charge to the defendant and ask if he intends to plead guilty  (when the defendant would formally be convicted)
  • If the defendant does not indicate a guilty plea, the court will determine whether the offence is more suitable for trial in a Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court after hearing the defendant’s convictions (if any), and/or the prosecution and defence representations (the decision being based of whether the sentence which a Magistrates’ Court could impose is likely to be adequate)
  • If trial in the Crown Court is more appropriate, the court to send the case to the Crown Court
  • If trial in a Magistrates’ Court is more appropriate, the defendant will be asked to consent to trial by Magistrates and, if the defendant consents, asked to plead guilty or not guilty
  • Before being asked to consent to trial in a Magistrates’ Court the defendant may ask the court to indicate whether a custodial or non-custodial sentence would be imposed if the defendant pleaded guilty (the court is not required to give an indication)
  • If an indication of sentence is given, the defendant should be asked whether he now intends to plead guilty (if the defendant pleads guilty following an indication of sentence the court will be bound by that indication)
  • If the defendant does not indicate an intention to plead guilty, he should be asked if he consents to summary trial
  • If the defendant does not consent to summary trial, the court will send the case to the Crown Court for trial and if the defendant consents to summary trial the case will proceed in the Magistrates’ Court.

Change in responsibilities of Examining Justices in the Magistrates Court

Magistrates have a continuing responsibility to:

  • Deal with cases efficiently and expeditiously
  • Deal with cases in a way that takes into account
  • The gravity of the offence alleged
  • The complexity of the issues
  • The severity of the consequences for the defendant and others affected
  • The needs of other cases.

Procedures if trial in Magistrates Court is more appropriate than Crown Court:

  • If trial in a Magistrates’ Court is more appropriate, the defendant will be asked to consent to trial by Magistrates and, if the defendant consents, asked to plead guilty or not guilty
  • Before being asked to consent to trial in a Magistrates’ Court the defendant may ask the court to indicate whether a custodial or non-custodial sentence would be imposed if the defendant pleaded guilty (the court is not required to give an indication)
  • If an indication of sentence is given, the defendant should be asked whether he now intends to plead guilty (if the defendant pleads guilty following an indication of sentence the court will be bound by that indication)
  • If the defendant does not indicate an intention to plead guilty, he should be asked if he consents to summary trial
  • If the defendant does not consent to summary trial, the court will send the case to the Crown Court for trial and if the defendant consents to summary trial the case will proceed in the Magistrates’ Court.

Case Management Powers in the Magistrates Court.

Case Management Powers may be used in the Magistrates Court to ensure that cases are resolved as soon as possible and in the appropriate court. There is a risk that the abolition of committal proceedings will result in the premature sending of a case to the Crown Court when that court is not the appropriate venue for the case, for example when the charging decision may not reflect the evidence. If a case is inappropriately sent to the Crown Court there will be increased costs and delay.
Other than offences which must be sent for trial because the allegation involves either serious/complex fraud or children.

Magistrates power to adjourn Allocation Proceedings in the Magistrates Court.

Magistrates have the power to adjourn allocation proceedings, and this power should be used when needed to allow the parties sufficient time to gather the information to review charging decisions or ensure that the court has sufficient information to take an informed allocation decision. (NB: once a Magistrates’ Court has allocated a case to either the Crown Court or a Magistrates’ Court it may not be able to re-open the decision).

To discharge their responsibilities to the court, the prosecution and defence are expected to be properly prepared; this should include:

  • The prosecution ensuring that they have sufficient information to take an informed decision on charge 
  • The prosecution providing the defence with initial prosecution details of the case, on which the defence can take instructions 
  • The defence taking instructions and, if necessary, being given time by the court to make enquiries or prepare a written basis of plea.

Procedures for Summary Trial / Trial in a Magistrates Court.

Initially, Magistrates under the arrangements will have to consider allocation of either way offences to be tried in either Crown Court or Magistrates Court.
In deciding whether to allocate a case to the Crown Court, Magistrates are asked simply to consider whether if the defendant is convicted their powers of punishment are sufficient.
Cases allocated to the Crown Court will be sent without being put-off for the preparation of committal papers. Magistrates will also send to the Crown Court those cases “allocated” to a Magistrates’ Court where the defendant does not consent to being tried by Magistrates; however, before sending such a defendant to the Crown Court, they can be given an indication as to whether, if a guilty plea(s) is entered, a custodial sentence would be imposed.
If trial in a Magistrates’ Court is more appropriate, the defendant will be asked to consent to trial by Magistrates and, if the defendant consents, asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

Source of information: The Sentencing Council for England and Wales