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NEW GUIDE ON GUILTY PLEA SENTENCING

Sentencing Council guidelines may assist corporate H&S offenders

On 1 June 2017, the Sentencing Council brought into effect sentencing guidelines for use in courts in England and Wales, setting out the principles which should be applied to reduce a sentence in the event of a guilty plea.

The Guidelines apply regardless of the date of the offence in cases where the first hearing is on or after 1 June 2017. The guideline applies equally in magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court.

Determining level of reduction

Where a guilty plea is indicated at the first stage of proceedings a reduction of one-third should be made (subject to the exceptions in section F). The first stage will normally be the first hearing at which a plea or indication of plea is sought and recorded by the court.

Where a plea is indicated after the first stage of proceedings a maximum one quarter on a decreasing scale from one-quarter to a maximum of one-tenth on the first day of trial having regard to the time when the guilty plea is first indicated to the court relative to the progress of the case and the trial date (subject to the exceptions in section F). The reduction should normally be decreased further, even to zero, if the guilty plea is entered during the course of the trial.

For the purposes of this guideline a trial will be deemed to have started when pre-record cross-examination has begun.

Useful exception for H&S offenders

Exception F of the guide may provide flexibility when it comes to a reduction for guilty pleas in health and safety prosecutions as the defendant will often need to obtain expert evidence and legal advice before realistically being able to enter a plea to any charge. The Exception F states:

“Where the sentencing court is satisfied that there were particular circumstances which significantly  reduced the defendant’s ability to understand what was alleged or otherwise made it unreasonable to expect the defendant to indicate a guilty plea sooner than was done, a reduction of one-third should still be made.

In considering whether this exception applies, sentencers should distinguish between cases in which it is necessary to receive advice and/or have sight of evidence in order to understand whether the defendant is in fact and law guilty of the offence(s) charged, and cases in which a defendant merely delays guilty plea(s) in order to assess the strength of the prosecution evidence and the prospects of conviction or acquittal.”

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