Britainâ€™s High Streets are at risk of becoming â€œfair gameâ€ to young criminals who are â€œblighting our communitiesâ€ because they know they can escape with on-the-spot fines, the Justice Secretary warns today.
In a speech to magistrates, Chris Grayling will say that repeat offenders must be brought before courts instead of escaping with fines and feeling that they can commit crimes â€œregardless of the consequencesâ€.
Ministers are planning to give magistrates a bigger role in overseeing how police cautions and fines are used amid concerns that too many criminals â€“ including violent offenders â€“ are escaping justice.
Mr Grayling will say to the National Bench Chairmenâ€™s Forum: â€œLike a lot of you, I think we need to proceed with care when it comes to out-of-court disposals.
â€œWe cannot have the situation where our high streets become fair game for groups of young people, who can put a bit of money aside on the assumption that theyâ€™ll get a penalty notice and go on to commit all sorts of anti-social behaviour regardless of the consequences.
â€œI am clear that repeat offenders blighting our communities, need to be brought before the courts.â€
Magistrates have raised concerns that thousands of violent criminals, sex offenders and burglars are being let off with cautions or on-the-spot fines.
Last year more than 14,000 criminals who admitted violence against the person were handed a police caution along with 1,700 sex offenders. Also among the total were 2,800 burglars and 200 robbers.
Mr Grayling will say: â€œWhere the police have used an out-of-court disposal, thereâ€™s a role for magistrates in scrutinising that.
â€œMagistrates can help to ensure there is transparency and consistency in how out-of-court disposals get used.â€
Under the plans, magistrates will be able to overrule police officers who issue out of court penalties, giving victims the power to challenge â€œsoftâ€ sentences.
Mr Grayling also said that magistrates will have a key role to play in helping tackle reoffenders. Under government plans, magistrates will have the power to jail offenders who breach new supervision conditions for up to 14 days.
He will say: â€œWe want to work with magistrates to deliver these new provisions, to get right the training and support they need to deal with these offenders and involve them in how we rehabilitate offenders.â€
He will also say that he wants magistrates to spend less time â€œrubber stampingâ€ low-level offences which are â€œforegone conclusionsâ€.
He will say: â€œItâ€™s utterly absurd that three magistrates should spend their time rubber-stamping foregone conclusions in simple road traffic cases.
â€œCases where the defendant doesnâ€™t contest the matter and doesnâ€™t even bother to turn up. One magistrate could deal with this much more efficiently on the papers.â€
He will also raise, however, that too many cases where being escalated to crown courts when magistrates â€œcould and should have sentencedâ€.
He will say: â€œIt is astonishing that something like 40 per cent of defendants convicted in the magistrates courts and then committed to the crown court for custodial sentences receive no more than six monthâ€™s imprisonment.â€
He will suggest that employers should be more flexible in giving magistrates time off to conduct their judicial duties.
â€œIâ€™d encourage employers to be as flexible in allowing JPs to undertake their duties â€“ and I do know that many employers do pay for the time off â€“ precisely because of what they can get back from having an experienced magistrate in their team.â€
On-the-spot fines are making High Streets â€˜fair gameâ€™ to young criminals
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