Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Law Changes: Sentencing "tramlines"?

Further sections of the Coroners and Justice Act 2010 will come into force on 6th April 2010.  These include the requirement that sentencers MUST FOLLOW relevant sentencing guidelines unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so (Coroners and Justice Act 2009 s.125).  The present requirement is that sentencers must "have regard to" sentencing guidelines (Criminal Justice Act 2003 s172). There is a requirement that a sentencer gives reasons for any departure from the guidelines (2003 Act s.174). It remains to be seen whether the guidelines will have been transformed into tramlines tying the hands of judges and magistrates.  The Telegraph 11th March reported that the judges were concerned that the change will result in greater use of custodial sentences.

On 4th October 2010, important changes to the law relating to murder will come into force.  The existing partial defences of diminished responsibility and provocation will be abolished and replaced by newly defined defences.  Successful use of the new defences would result in a conviction for manslaughter thereby permitting the trial judge to impose a sentence which he considers appropriate.  Is this not an area where over rigid guidance might not be desirable given that the detailed facts of these cases are very variable.  Guidelines to be of value have to operate in support of the "in the interests of justice"?  The Explanatory Note to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 explains the changes to the law.

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