Judges reject sentencing rules

Judges are ignoring rules that cut defendants' jail terms for early guilty pleas, it has been revealed to The Lawyer.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) says that, according to anecdotal evidence, some judges are failing to use the powers, which date back to the 1994 Criminal Justice Act.

As a result, it says that defence lawyers are rarely advising clients to plead guilty at early hearings. Acpo is calling for a review of the system to ensure judges use their powers to full effect.

The Government introduced the new sentencing policy giving hefty discounts as an inducement to defendants to plead guilty at early hearings.

The legislation was supposed to free up court time and spare victims and witnesses the ordeal of attending court only to find the trial collapses at the last minute when defendants change their pleas.

An early guilty plea would allow defendants to reap the benefit of a shortened sentence.

Acpo's superintendent Bob Golding says: “Discounting for early pleas gives advantages to all concerned. But solicitors have ceased to advise clients about early guilty pleas because it actually doesn't make any difference in their perception.

“Some judges are not giving additional discounts or it is not clearly apparent the discount is being applied.

“It has to be a genuine discount. According to some anecdotal evidence it has ceased to have the intended or desired effect.”

According to research, says Golding, u20m in police officers' time is wasted because they are unnecessarily asked to attend court.

“In a significant number of cases this is due to a late guilty plea,” explains Golding.

The Home Office has so far failed to comment on this.