The Sentencing Guidelines Council has just published its report on the sentences that were handed down last year. In a quick scan of the figures the one thing that stands out is the massive increase in Suspended Sentence Orders. Once judges and magistrates realised the potential of these, with requirements such as unpaid work or drug treatment as well as suspended custody, they started to use them enthusiastically, me included.
Magistrates are shortly to lose the power to pass an SSO for a summary-only offence, so it will have to be immediate custody, a community penalty (for which probation have scant resources) or a fine (which is the Government's favoured option - surprise, surprise). Summary-only offences are not necessarily trivial; they include Common Assault, Drink-Driving, Driving While Disqualified, Harassment, Vehicle Taking, and many more. What are we supposed to do now, when someone is up for his third high-level drink-drive coupled with driving while disqualified? An SSO is the ideal response to this type of offence, but now it's going to be all or nothing.
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