It is widely known that defendants in criminal cases receive credit for guilty pleas; changes announced this week have refocused attention on the rules which govern the amount of credit available.
s.144 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 requires a court to take account of two factors:
- The stage at which the plea is given; and
- The circumstances of the indication
Currently, the timing of a plea, relative to the discount available, is not strictly defined. Defendants are expected to enter a guilty plea ‘at the first reasonable opportunity’ to receive maximum credit.
From 1 June 2017, new definitive guidelines will come into force, which place ever greater emphasis upon the timing of a guilty plea, which will operate as follows:-
- At the first stage of proceedings, the maximum credit will be one third;
- After that, a sliding scale will apply, going from the maximum one quarter to a maximum of one-tenth on the first day of a trial;
- If a defendant does not plead guilty until they are part way through a trial, they would be set to receive no credit at all.
The Sentencing Council has said that ‘the earlier a guilty plea is entered, the earlier victims and witnesses know that they will be spared the stress and anxiety of a trial.’
So what does this mean on a practical level? Arguably, offenders will be further incentivised to enter a guilty plea at an earlier stage, fulfilling the objectives set out by the Sentencing Council. It does mean that prompt and accurate advice becomes even more crucial for those faced with a decision as to plea.
The new guidelines have clear implications for anyone facing sentence in a criminal case after 1 June. If you require help and advice in relation to a criminal matter, please contact Ison Harrison on 0113 284 5000.