Sentencing Council issues definitive allocation guideline

The Sentencing Council has published a revised definitive guideline for allocation, which will provide courts with guidance on whether cases should be dealt with in magistrates’ courts or the Crown Court. This will enable them to ensure that cases are tried and sentenced at the appropriate level. The guideline will come into effect on 1 March 2016.

Its introduction will mean more cases will be retained for trial and sentence in the magistrates’ courts: the guideline clarifies that cases should only be sent to the Crown Court for trial when they are clearly unsuitable for trial in magistrates’ courts. Unusually, the guideline does not influence the level of sentence given; it deals solely with which court deals with the case for trial and for sentence, but it falls within the Council’s statutory remit to produce an allocation guideline.

Reconsidering the guideline was one of the recommendations in Sir Brian Leveson’s Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings. By encouraging the retention of more cases in magistrates’ courts, the guideline will enable more cases to be dealt with more quickly, which benefits victims and witnesses and leads to greater efficiency in the criminal justice system.

The guideline aims to bring about a change in culture and will inevitably provide some challenges, but the Council is confident from the responses to the consultation that the guideline will be welcomed by sentencers and will play a role in ensuring that justice is delivered fairly, swiftly and efficiently in more cases.

The new guideline will replace one issued by the Council in 2012, taking into account changes to legislation; guidance in the Criminal Practice Directions and advice issued by the Chief Magistrate.

The Council consulted on the proposed changes from 19 June to 31 July 2015 and received 48 responses. Respondents included organisations representing the views of sentencers (magistrates, district judges and Crown Court judges), prosecutors, defence practitioners and Justices’ Clerks. As a result of the extremely helpful responses received, the Council amended the draft guideline to improve clarity, and to give additional guidance. For example, the section on youths jointly charged with adults has been expanded following responses received from experts in this area.

The guideline can be downloaded here.