New rules for magistrates courts

Magistrates will be able to sentence offenders for up to 12 months’ imprisonment under changes being introduced by the Criminal Justice Act in December.

Magistrates courts will also now have access to an electronic database to help track down wilful defaulters on court penalties.

The increase in sentencing is designed to reduce delays forced by magistrates having to refer cases to the Crown Court. Offences affected include racially aggravated assault, which has a maximum sentence of seven years.

Meanwhile, the department of constitutional affairs has signed a one-year agreement with credit reference agency Equifax. The agreement means magistrates will be able to find offenders who are defaulting on financial penalties and other punishments such as community rehabilitation orders.