Important Changes to Criminal Law in the UKBy Darren Rogers Published on: 24 July, 2015
Criminal law has seen a number of changes recently in a variety of key areas. These include:
Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015
The considerable amount of new legislation contained in this act was implemented in mid-April. This has implications for:
• Summary offences are subject to new time limits of three years from the offence taking place or six months after prosecutors obtain sufficient knowledge to justify action.
• A single justice procedure has been introduced, allowing single justices to sit (outside a court room) and make decisions on certain cases which are not being contested. Appropriate fines may be set.
• Courts dealing with young offenders are now able to commit for sentence even after trial.
• No details of people under 18 involved in proceedings may be published in any way, including social media, if it could lead to their identification by members of the public. For defendants, this applies wholesale. For witnesses, a reporting direction may be made by the court only if the quality of evidence is believed to be at stake.
• When cautions, including conditional cautions, are handed to those 17 years of age, an appropriate adult must be present.
• Cautions should not be administered for indictable only offences, when a caution has already been issued in the past 24 months, or for crimes which fall into an either-way exceptional group of defined offences.
Sexual Offence Prevention Orders were replaced on 8th March by Sexual Harm Prevention Orders, and Risk of Sexual Harm Orders were replaced by Sexual Risk Orders.
A few days later, 12th March saw the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012's section 85. This means that all fines issued by magistrates with a maximum classed at level 5 (£5,000+) have now become unlimited fines. There are a number of exceptions to this rule, particularly in relation to financial offences. Many exceptions now carry a maximum fine of £20,000.
Offender Rehabilitation Act
Taking effect back in February, this act applies to all sentences that were imposed from the first day of that month onwards. Offenders who receive sentences of less than two years will also be required to serve a year under supervision or on license, provided they are over 18 when released. This point is especially pertinent for those who previously received equivalent sentences which had already been served on remand, as these may now be more appropriately issued with a fine and a day in lieu to avoid breaching new supervisory requirements.
Breaching said supervision requirements is also subject to new provisions, unless a reasonable excuse can be given. If a breach is found to be proved or is admitted, 14 days of imprisonment or detention can now be imposed by a magistrate. Alternatively, a fine may be issued, or the defendant may be given a Supervision Default Order which involves a curfew of 2-16 hours for at least 20 days along with 20-60 hours of unpaid work.
Article picture: Lady Justice statue on the top of the Old Bailey court building.
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