Magistrates will soon be able to double the maximum prison sentence they hand down, in a bid to reduce the crown court backlog.
Lord chancellor Dominic Raab announced the changes for the sentences and said that magistrates will also be able to sentence serious cases like fraud, theft and assault.
Currently, any crime that warrants a prison sentence of more than six months must be sent to a crown court for a judge to determine the appropriate sentence.
Changes come into force in the coming months via a commencement order and apply to England and Wales.
The 12,651 magistrates currently in post – who do not currently need specific legal training – will need to complete a form of training provided by the Judicial College before new powers are granted.
Raab said: “This measure will provide additional capacity to drive down the backlog of cases in the crown courts over the coming years. Together with the Nightingale courts, digital hearings and unlimited sitting days, we will deliver swifter and more effective justice as we build back a stronger, safer and fairer society after the pandemic.”
The Magistrates Association said it was delighted with the announcement following years of campaigns to extend magistrates’ sentencing powers.
However, the Law Society said it did not support increasing magistrates’ sentencing powers. I. Stephanie Boyce, president, said the measure will not help address the backlog predominantly in the crown court.