05 February 2008

Consultation Guidelines: Revised Magistrates' Court Sentencing Guidelines

We were pleased to receive the consultation guidelines for Magistrates' Courts. The Justice Committee heard oral evidence in relation to these guidelines on the 22 January 2008 and I have attached a copy of the uncorrected transcript.

Based on the evidence received by the Committee, there are no points the Committee wishes to draw to the Council's attention regarding the guidelines themselves or the specific questions in relation to fines. Witnesses raised some key points about the implementation of the guidelines which the Committee will seek to pursue with relevant bodies. I summarise these for your information below.

We note that these guidelines, once finalised, will for the first time be binding upon Magistrates. There was a clear message in the evidence to the Committee about the benefits of the clear structure the guidelines provide and their contribution to consistency of approach balanced with the importance of individuals feeling confident to depart from these where appropriate due to the variability of individual circumstances. Witnesses felt that training of Magistrates would be a key factor in ensuring this balance was achieved.

In relation to fines, witnesses noted practical issues which affected the ability of the sentencer to determine the amount of a fine. These included variability of use of means forms across different Magistrates' Courts and the ability of the offender actually to understand and complete such forms accurately.

Rt Hon Alan Beith MP


Justice Committee