Thursday, February 24, 2005

Special Offer - Hurry!

The Sentencing Guidelines Council, one of the exciting new bodies set up by the latest flurry of criminal law reforms, has pronounced on sentencing discounts.

It has long been the practice to knock a bit off the sentence in return for a plea of guilty. Guilty pleas save money, they save time, and they save putting witnesses through the unpleasantness of coming to court. So they are a good thing then.

The latest guidance is that plea discounts should be on a sliding scale ranging from one third for a plea at the 'first reasonable opportunity' via a maximum of one quarter after a trial date has been set, to a maximum of a tenth for a plea at the door of the court or after the trial has begun.

The new guidelines are designed to bring in consistency and to help the habitual criminal to gauge the odds more accurately when deciding on his plea. If he sticks out for a not guilty, and a key witness does not appear, or the CPS loses a crucial document, or any one of a thousand screw-ups happens, then he has had a good result. On the other hand, if he waits until he sees the whites of the victim's eyes before changing his plea he will get almost all of the tariff for the offence.

This applies all the way down to the humble offences heard in the Magistrates' court, but it only affects fines, prison terms and community penalties. There is no discount on penalty points or on disqualification periods.

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