Magistrates' Court News
MAGISTRATES’ COURT UPDATE
Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines
The Sentencing Guidelines Council Update 7 to the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines becomes applicable to all offences sentenced on or after 11th June 2012, regardless of the date of commission. This update provides new Explanatory Material to the existing guidelines, taking into account new overarching guidelines and updating ‘relevant weekly incomes’.
The update also provides new material following the publication of the definitive guideline for allocation, totality and offences taken into consideration, as well as a correction to the drug offence guidelines published in update 6.
The full text of the update can be found at: http://sentencingcouncil.judiciary.gov.uk/docs/MCSG_Update_7_-_March_2012_-_final_web.pdf
Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2011
On 2nd April 2012 amendments to the CPR came into force. Of note, a new Part 9 to the Rules is substituted dealing with ‘allocation and sending for trial’ and simplifying the procedures for committing ‘either-way’ matters to the Crown Court. Under the new Part 9 the Magistrates’ Court will no longer be required to consider the sufficiency of prosecution evidence, simply that their sentencing powers are insufficient or the Defendant elects trial by jury.
Also to be found in the amendments is a new rule 3.5 allowing the Court to require parties to identify case issues in writing, an amendment to rule 37.8 clarifying that neither party need attend the hearing of a written guilty plea and the time for applications to dismiss charges sent to the Crown Court set at 28 days by Part 13.
Practitioners should be aware of the obiter comments of the President of the Queen’s Bench Division in the case of Drinkwater v Solihull Magistrates’ Court  EWHC 765 (Admin) regarding active case management of trials:
“…it is clear that in any case in the Magistrates' Court where a trial is likely to be other than a short one, it should be the ordinary practice for a timetable for the conduct of a trial to be set at the time the trial date is fixed and the estimate made.
In setting the timetable, the court should scrutinise the reasons why it is said a witness is necessary and the time examination and cross-examination would take. It is also important in setting a timetable to have regard to the nature of the issues and the fact that the trial is a summary trial; any estimate of more than a day in the Magistrates' Courts should be scrutinised with the utmost rigour. Parties must realise that a summary trial requires a proportionate approach. If a timetable for the trial is not set, it is difficult to have any real confidence that the estimate is accurate.
At the commencement of the trial, the Magistrates' Court should check with the parties that the timetable and the estimates remain valid. If there is any variation which lengthens the estimate, the court should make every effort to see if the trial can still be accommodated that day by sitting late or otherwise.”