The Daily Mail has reacted with its usual predictable outrage and lack of understanding to the recent decision of the High Court in the case of Grecu & Bagarea v Romania. This is the latest case in the ongoing saga of Romanian prison conditions. There have been a number of cases both in this country and throughout the rest of Europe where people who are wanted by Romania have sought to challenge their extradition on the grounds that it would be a breach of their Article 3 Human Rights. It is widely accepted that the prison conditions in Romania are very poor, both in terms of the space allocated to an individual prisoner and the overall conditions.
Challenges in this country have been brought mainly in relation to the amount of space that prisoners are held in. In previous cases, the Court has decided that the amount of space that a prisoner would normally have is not enough. However, the Romanian authorities have promised that people extradited from the UK would be held in better conditions, with more space. Evidence from people later extradited has made it clear that this is not happening, and the Romanian authorities have accepted that there are problems.
At some point, the High Court is going to have to decide whether the Romanian assurances can be relied upon, as they continually breach them. The signs from other courts in Europe, and in particular from a Croatian case heard in the European Court of Human Rights, is that patience has run out.
Contrary to the Daily Mail’s view, the High Court has not said that Grecu and Baggarea can stay in this country. They have allowed the Romanian authorities ‘a final opportunity’ to provide the necessary undertakings, despite Romania having had a number of ‘last chances’. The Court appear to acknowledge that if the Romanian authorities cannot do so, there can be no extradition to Romania until the problem is resolved. It is likely that the High Court will make a decision in this case in the next few weeks, but do not expect that to be the end of the matter.
The Sentencing Council guidelines for ‘Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea’ come into force from 1st June 2017 for all offences sentenced after that date, but what do the new guidelines mean for defendants? Will they still get credit for an early guilty plea?
There is not a great deal of difference between the existing practice and the new credit for an early guilty plea guidelines. What the guidelines do is commit the existing regime to a more formulaic approach, with a handy flow-chart for courts and practitioners to follow. Credit for an early guilty plea still exists and the reasons for doing so are unarguable. Credit for an early guilty pleas mean that cases conclude earlier, the process is quicker, and the public purse is saved a great deal of expense. Most importantly witnesses are spared the distress of having to give evidence at court.
The earlier in proceedings a guilty plea is entered, the greater the credit available to a defendant.
At a first hearing in the Magistrates court that credit is generally reflected as a one third reduction in the type of sentence – eg a fine of £150 would be reduced to £100, a requirement to undertake 90 hours of unpaid work reduced to 60 or a custodial sentence of 18 weeks reduced to 12. The same applies to sentences at the Crown Court albeit often on a grander scale due to the greater sentencing powers available.
Should a defendant choose to enter a guilty plea at a later stage in proceedings their credit is reduced to a maximum of one quarter reducing on a sliding scale to just one tenth depending on how near to a trial they change their plea.
In circumstances where an offence falls squarely into a particular sentence type the credit can be applied easily. However, the guidelines do still allow for the sentencing court to shift from one type of sentence to another to reflect an early guilty plea. Potentially a defendant’s credit could be the difference between a custodial sentence and a community order.
What does appear to be of concern is that the guideline explicitly states that maximum credit for an indictable only offence will be given on indication of a guilty plea. Indictable only offences are those that are so serious only the Crown Court can deal with them. Such cases still begin at the Magistrates Court and are sent to the Crown Court; crucially a plea is not formally entered at the Magistrates Court. The concern here is that at a first appearance, particularly for indictable only offences, the CPS do not necessarily provide a full bundle of evidence. As a result it is not possible to fully advise as to the charge, the strength of evidence and of course the appropriate plea.
There will still be circumstances in which full credit may be given outside the very first appearance as the guidelines allow some flexibility. In order to justify the full amount of credit the court must be 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”.
Obtaining legal advice as early as possible will ensure that you are able to maximise your chances of receiving full credit for an early guilty plea, of course only if you are guilty of an offence.
For a copy of the full guidelines, click Here.
If you require advice in relation to criminal proceedings, whether pending or ongoing, contact our team on 020 7388 1658 or email@example.comRead More