MAGISTRATES in England and Wales will be able to jail criminals for twice as long as they currently can, under plans to clear court backlogs reports the BBC.
The government is planning to allow magistrates to hand out sentences of up to a year, rather than six months.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab says he hopes it will free up crown courts which are facing huge delays.
But criminal lawyers are predicting it could have the opposite effect.
Magistrates – who are volunteers with no legal experience – deal with less serious crimes, for example motoring offences, minor assaults and some thefts.
But they can only impose prison sentences of up to six months for a single offence. So when magistrates think defendants deserve a prison sentence of longer than six months, they have to hand the case to a judge.
The Ministry of Justice thinks that by doubling magistrates’ sentencing powers to a year, it can stop about 500 cases going to crown court – giving judges 2,000 extra days to handle more serious crimes.
The courts system is facing unprecedented delays – and as of June last year there was a record high of more than 60,000 crown court trials waiting to be heard.
Many serious cases are being pushed back until late 2023 – with alleged victims saying they are struggling to cope as they wait for their cases to be heard.
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