Letter: Danger reforms now under way

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your report of Michael Howard's proposals to limit the right to jury trial (report, 28 February) makes the erroneous assumption that defendants thereby forced to have their cases heard in magistrates' courts would receive lighter sentences as a result.

This overlooks the power of magistrates in such cases - if they consider their own powers insufficient - to commit the defendant after conviction to the Crown Court for sentencing. It would only be if all "either way" offences were reclassified as summary only, or curbs were placed on magistrates' powers to commit for sentencing, that defendants would be guaranteed a lighter sentence.

At the moment defendants in such cases are offered a "heads we win, tails you lose" proposition, being told that even if they choose trial before magistrates, they can still be sent to the Crown Court for sentence. In these circumstances, it is perhaps remarkable that more than 90 per cent of those given the choice do choose to be tried in the magistrates' courts. This hardly shows that the right to jury trial is being widely abused.

LEE BRIDGES

Principal Research Fellow

Legal Research Institute

University of Warwick

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