By Jill Gramann, Magistrate member of the Sentencing Council and Chair of the Kidderminster Bench from 2011 to 2013.
This article also appears in the next issue of the Magistrate magazine.
I am pleased to be the bearer of good news – the Sentencing Council has completed its work to create online sentencing guidelines for magistrates.
For the first time, you will have free and unlimited access to these guidelines in a genuinely digital format. The website will provide access to the full set of sentencing guidelines and is guaranteed to be up to date at all times. The site is designed to enable magistrates and others to have free access to all Sentencing Council guidelines as well as links to other material for their use when sentencing offenders in the magistrates’ courts.
The online MCSG allows users to search for offences using a highly sophisticated search tool, have multiple guidelines open simultaneously in separate windows and access newly revised explanatory materials to support decision making. A fines calculator and Judicial College materials such as the pronouncement cards and the bench book are also available on the site.
The new guidelines will be freely available from any device connected to the internet and will provide all the functions of any other website. Simply visit the Sentencing Council website and click ‘Visit the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guideline’ in the horizontal blue banner near the top of the page and it will take you to the online guidelines. Alternatively, you will be able to access the guidelines via a tile on eJudiciary.
There is no need to register or have a username or password – the information is freely available to anyone online on any device.
We have tested prototypes of this site with a group of magistrates, legal advisors and district judges who have volunteered to give us feedback as we developed this resource – their input has been extremely valuable and has helped us shape the site.
It is important to understand the distinction between an app, which many magistrates are already using, and these online guidelines. Apps have been created primarily for environments where an internet connection is not available. Now that wifi is being rolled out in all magistrates’ courts, an app is no longer the best approach.
However, it is entirely your own choice whether to continue paying for an existing app or to switch over to our free online version. Initially, commercial apps will not be accessible from court tablets so you would have to use your own tablet to access them.
Whilst not all magistrates have devices on which to use these guidelines and not all courts have wi-fi, we are continuing to supply alternative versions. Once wifi and the Bench Solution are in place in all courts, it should be noted that our pdf and hard copies will cease to be supported.
An offline version will be available later in September which will allow users to access this material without the need for an internet connection and you can still download the pdf and print off the necessary pages.
Revised explanatory material
If users are maintaining a hard copy of the MCSG, the online explanatory material (part five in the hard copy) has been substantially reorganised and amended and they may wish to print this section (pages 141 – 196 in the pdf) which can then replace part five in hard copies.
When new guidelines are published, changes will be flagged on the site in an Updates section. New guidelines will be added to the list of offences using colour coding to clearly distinguish between those guidelines which are yet to come into force and those already in force.
We will also update the offline version which will automatically notify all users when updates are issued and prompt them to download the new version. A pdf of the latest guideline to print will also be made available, which can be added to MCSG folders. Where there is high demand for printed copies, courts can contact the office of the Sentencing Council and black and white copies will be delivered to courts for circulation to those who need them.
Help and support
I am excited by the potential of this new resource and hope everyone will enjoy using it. If there is anything further you need, please do let the team know by emailing MCSGsupport@sentencingcouncil.gsi.gov.uk. Responses should take no more than 24 hours. If you require urgent assistance, please call 020 7071 5793.
This site will continue to grow and have new content and tools added so if you have suggestions of things that would be useful, please do get in touch.