Tuesday, August 07, 2012
Traditionally, an accused person is given a discount for pleading guilty. It is said to be up to one-third of the sentence. In theory, the recognition of a person’s guilt demonstrates their remorse and contrition and saves the courts time. In the case of an offence where there is a victim, it also saves the victim the trauma of a court case.
Presently, there is a Bill before Parliament, which is said to stipulate certain levels of discount when a person pleads guilty. The earlier the guilty plea, the more the discount. In fact, it is proposed that if a person pleads guilty within 4 weeks of the first court appearance then a discount of up to 40% may apply. Lesser discounts occur at different stages of the proceedings. It is claimed that these new provisions encapsulate the existing law. We disagree.
We at Woods & Co keep up to date with new changes, and are part of the Criminal Law Committee of the Law Society who are consulted on such changes.
At our firm, we take the view that such a system could lead to unfairness and inequity. The discounts appear to be linked to arbitrary times and not to stages and the appropriate and proper disclosure of information from the prosecution. At present, there are huge delays in electronic crime analysis. Many cases have internet, SMS messages, Facebook or other electronic data that is required. There are lengthy delays in the provision of Forensic material such as DNA and even drug analysis.
A solicitor will need to ensure that the client is properly informed at material stage as to the appropriate discounts. This applies even though the solicitor may not be able to advise you on the merits of any plea due to the non-disclosure of essential materials. If a solicitor advises you to take the discount without properly assessing the evidence, then that solicitor may be negligent. The drafters of the legislation would say that the accused can instruct the solicitor whether or not they are guilty. If it was that easy, lawyers would not need a law degree. Wait for the first person who takes the 40% discount only to find the 'heroin" they had in their possession turned out to be caustic soda.
Hopefully, any changes will be linked to the proper disclosure of appropriate and proper information from the prosecution before an accused is called upon to respond.