Magistrates will be able to hand out summary justice in police stations under a radical overhaul of out-of-court penalties being considered by the Government.
Nick Herbert signals a radical overhaul of out of court penalties
They will also be able to dictate whether some offenders, such as repeat shoplifters, should go to court rather than be handed fines or cautions,The Daily TelegraphÂ can disclose.
Nick Herbert, the police and criminal justice minister, will today signal a dramatic new role for magistrates to ensure out of court penalties are used appropriately.
The punishments have come under intense criticism that they are being overused and handed out to criminals whose offences are so serious they should appear before a court.
The Lord Chief Justice, the countryâ€™s most senior judge, is among those who have expressed concern over the growing trend.
Currently police decide whether an out of court penalty is appropriate and a magistrate only becomes involved if an offence goes to court instead.
It has led to accusations that the police act as judge and jury and can have an incentive to hand out a softer penalty to save the time and resources of taking the case further.
But Mr Herbert will suggest a key new oversight role for magistrates to ensure the punishments are not abused and that those who should go to court do so.
It would be a dramatic change to the criminal justice system and echoes some European countries where magistrates have a far greater role in how crimes are dealt with.
In a speech to the Magistratesâ€™ Association, Mr Herbert will say: â€œI want to reclaim summary justice for the community, with magistrates at the centre.â€
He will raise the prospect of magistrates being on hand in a police station, or even via video link, to make decisions on how an admitted offence is dealt with and even hand out sentence.
He or she would decide whether an out of court penalty is appropriate or whether the offence should go to court.
In some cases, and if the offender agrees, the magistrate could even hand out punishment there and then, potentially even a community penalty or suspended sentence.
Mr Herbert will say: â€œI want us to think more radically about what else magistrates could do outside the formal court setting to help us achieve the swift and sure justice we seek.
â€œOne suggestion, informed by our experience of the riots, is that magistrates could provide a triage function as soon as cases are charged.
â€œThis would ensure that appropriate cases were allocated in and out of court, including referrals to Neighbourhood Justice Panels.
â€œBut more than this, is there any reason why that magistrate, exercising a triage function and not necessarily sitting in a court, could not immediately sentence in certain non-contested cases?
â€œThis could be simple, swift and need not involve expensive lawyers.â€
Police would retain the power to give out of court punishments in the majority of low-level offences but a magistrate would decide in more borderline cases such as persistent petty offenders or more serious criminal damage.
There has been concern that offenders can often handed caution after caution for minor crimes without ever going to court.
In July, Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, attacked the “widespread” use of out â€“ of â€“ court penalties amid fears that one in three is inappropriate.
He warned against police becoming “judge and jury” as he suggested that violent and persistent offenders are wrongly being kept away from the courts. He said that the number of on â€“ the â€“ spot fines and other summary penalties had more than doubled in five years, which left him “troubled”.
Mr Herbert will say that despite a recent fall in the disposals they are still being used â€œinappropriatelyâ€ in some cases.
He will say misuse risks â€œundermining public confidence in our entire system of justiceâ€.
He will announce plans for a national framework to help guide police on when an out of court punishment is and is not appropriate.
Such a framework would also help them decide when to refer to a magistrate if the suggestion overhaul becomes a reality.
He will say it is about diverting people from crime, not the criminal justice system.
â€œWe are not proposing an alternative to the formal criminal justice system but a carefully guarded return of power and responsibility to communities to resolve less serious crimes quickly and rigorously,â€ he will say.
Minister signals summary justice role for magistrates