cambridgeshire magistrates

funded by the Cambridgeshire Branch of the Magistrates' Association

Sentences

The sentences which magistrates can impose cover a range:

  • Discharge, Absolute or Conditional: if actual punishment is not considered appropriate. A conditional discharge depends on the offender keeping out of trouble for a specified period: if they offend again during that period, they will be sentenced for the original offence as well as the new offence. So a conditional discharge hangs over the offender for some time.
  • Fines: calculated according to how serious the offence is (for example higher fines for higher excess speeds and higher drivers' alcohol readings) and according to the offender's income.
  • Community Orders: include unpaid work, a curfew (controlled by a tagging system), supervision by a probation officer, attending various programmes run by the Probation Service, such as involving domestic violence or developing the capacity to think about the consequences of offending. If an offender does not carry out the requirements of the community order, they are brought back to court and a more serious sentence is usually imposed.
  • Custody: magistrates have the power to send offenders to prison for up to 6 months for one offence, normally for more serious offences. In limited circumstances, custody of up to 12 months can be imposed for two or more offences i.e. up to 6 months for each. Magistrates may decide to suspend the sentence, as long as an offender complies with requirements similar to a community sentence. If the offender does not comply with these requirements, the prison sentence may be activated.

Magistrates can disqualify an offender from driving. The law sets a disqualification of at least 12 months for driving over the alcohol limit. The minimum disqualification period is 3 years where the offender has a relevant previous conviction. For many motoring offences, penalty points are recorded on a person's licence. An accumulation of 12 points leads to a 6 month driving ban, unless the person can convince the court that this would lead to exceptional hardship.

Magistrates have guidelines and, following a process of structured decision making, they reach a sentence that is appropriate to the seriousness and other circumstances of the case: a sentence that is appropriate for the particular offence and the particular offender.

Offenders who plead guilty as early as possible have their sentence reduced by up to one-third.

If an offender has caused injury or damaged property, they may be required to pay compensation to the injured person or owner of the damaged property. Offenders are also usually required to pay towards the costs incurred in bringing their case to court and all have to pay a victim surcharge.