The Sentencing Council (SC) has launched a consultation on its proposed guideline for reduction in sentence for guilty plea. The consultation will end on 5 May 2016.

The Council in accordance with Section 120(3)(a) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 must prepare a guideline as to the discharge of the courts' duty relating to reductions for guilty pleas. If adopted the proposed guideline will replace the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) 2007 Definitive Guideline.

The proposal

The proposed guideline states that where a plea is indicated at the first stage of the proceedings a reduction of one-third should be made. The proposed guideline includes definitions of what is meant by the first stage of trial. For health and safety and environmental offences this will be up to and including the allocation hearing at the magistrates' court.

After the first stage of the proceedings the maximum level of reduction for a guilty plea is one-fifth. For health, safety and environmental offences dealt with in the Magistrates' the 20% reduction will be awarded up to 14 days after the first hearing. For offences sent to the Crown Court the reduction will be awarded up until to the first hearing at the Crown Court.

Thereafter the reduction is subject to a sliding scale with the maximum reduction of one-tenth applicable on the first day of trial and a nil reduction for a guilty plea part way through a trial.

Impact

The SC is seeking to, along with encouraging offenders to admit their guilt at an early stage, improve clarity and consistency; as a result the Guidelines define each stage and the appropriate reduction. Under current guidelines specific stages such as, "first reasonable opportunity" are not defined and therefore open to interpretation by the courts. In practice this change is likely to have little effect as courts already apply a consistent approach. The guidelines will merely add clarity for organisations when taking into account timings and entering plea.

If adopted, the most significant impact will be on organisations entering a guilty plea after the first stage of proceedings. The proposal decreases the reduction from 25% under current guidelines to 20%. Considering the substantial increase in fines for health, safety and environmental offences which can be measured in the millions of pounds, 5% is capable of making a significant impact. As a result organisations would need to assess their position and plea at the earliest opportunity.

The consultation can be found here