Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Time off for early admission of guilt

The Times, which is unfortunately hidden behind a "pay wall", reports that there are plans to reward those who admit their crimes at the first possible stage.  Under present sentencing guidelines a discount on sentence of up to one-third is available to the defendant who pleads guilty at the first court appearance.  The idea appears to be that even more discount will be available to those who admit their guilt to the Police.  Thus, a sliding scale of discounts will apply.

Whilst this is supported by a number of senior lawyers including Lord Justice Leveson (Chairman of the Sentencing Council), some lawyers are warning that persons in custody should not be offered greater discounts because it may result in false confessions or in the Police not investigating cases fully.  Certainly, a large reduction in sentence is a powerful incentive to admit guilt.  Within the Crown Court system there is considerable concern at the numbers who plead guilty on the day of trial having run up considerable costs in case preparation.  In the Crown Court over 70% of cases are guilty pleas.

Although this is reported in the media, it appears that the Sentencing Council is considering the idea and proposals will go out to public consultation later - see London Evening Standard.


  1. As a criminal defence solicitor, I am less concerned about false guilty pleas than you may expect. They happen and the people who make them usually go in with their eyes open (not always but mostly). My most recent experience with this was this morning. Before that was a couple of weeks ago.

    What concerns me is that sentences are already lower than they should be. For example, in offensive weapon cases, it used to be the case that a magistrate was asked to consider whether only custody was appropriate. Now, you have to be trying to get custody for having an offensive weapon.

    I think that this type of intiative would only serve to weaken the CJS in the eyes of the public who are afterall the people who fund it and expect it to provide justice.

  2. It is interesting that this is now being widely reported - it was all floated on 3 June in The Times - I suspect that this is a softening up exercise engineered between the Minister and the Chairman of the SC as it was reported in the minutes of the SC on June 25 that there would be communication between the MOJ and the SC on the matter of guilty plea reduction. The (sadly) defunct SAP looked at the issue twice and consulted widely but were still uneasy about it. It would appear from polls in some of the tabloids that it would not be a popular move. The SC has to address public confidence in the CJS. Catch 22? There was an editorial in Criminal Law and Justice on June 19 and an article on July 10 about this topic. Sorry I don't know how to give a direct link

  3. Many thanks Onlooker for mentioning the various items ...

    Here is a link to one article on Criminal Law and Justice which refers to Leveson LJ wanting this initiative - New Brooms Sweep Clean - about two-thirds of the way through the article there is the bit sub-headed The Newest 'New Broom'

  4. I am seeing a new tactic which assumes that somnething akin to this proposal is already here. D admits everything at the police station and therefore the CPS responds in two ways. The charge is downgraded (common assault, not ABH)and a thin file is prepared, rather than a full file. Ho hum, D gets bail and then comes to court and pleads Not Guilty. CPS taken aback and claim it will be difficult to get a full file "at this stage". (In Narey cases this will of course be only a few days after charge.) Collapse all round. Doesn't happen often, but often enough. If challenged, two responses - drunk/drugged when making the statement at the police or "that was a tactic to get bail - I knew if I didn't admit things that I would be kept in for longer/beaten up/deprived of food". Clearly, only limited credit will be given if the plea changes back later, but we need to ensure the police have judicial authority if a plea is to be taken befor getting to a court. I am not sure the police want this and certainly I don't! Remember too that in most domestic violence cases, the perpetrator pleads not guilty even where full credit is available today, in the hope that the victim doesn't turn up or give credible evidence. That won't change.