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Across the CJS

Sentencing & the Criminal Courts

What is preventing fair and effective courts and sentencing?

Magistrates and judges have a range of options for dealing with people who have committed a crime. But sentences handed down are often ineffective in reducing crime. For example, the government’s own research has shown that people are more likely to reoffend if they are given a short prison sentence compared to a community sentence, but the use of community sentences has almost halved over the last decade. Sentence lengths have also been increasing despite no clear evidence this reduces crime, and courts remand too many people in custody while they await trial, contributing to overcrowding in prisons.

The CJA advocates for smarter sentencing which better helps people turn away from crime. We call for a more diverse judiciary, magistracy and legal profession that reflect the communities they serve, and set out how pressure can be eased on the overburdened criminal courts.  

The Law Courts

Our recent work:

Remand Expert Group

The CJA works to reduce the use of remand. Our Remand Expert Group, made up of members working within criminal courts and sentencing, informs this work. The group meets regularly to discuss trends and identify opportunities. We use their insights to influence policy makers.

If you’re interested in joining this group, contact the CJA Director.


Responding to the sentencing White Paper

In September 2020, the government published a White Paper setting out its plans for sentencing. We worked with members to respondwelcoming some positive proposals but raising significant concerns about changes which will mean more people being sent to prison and for longer periods of time. Read our briefing on the sentencing White Paper and read the government’s response.


Custody Time Limits

In September 2020, the Ministry of Justice extended the amount of time someone can be kept in prison awaiting trial before a judge must review their case. The government introduced this extension to the Custody Time Limit due to the large backlog in cases in the criminal courts. We wrote a letter to the Justice Secretary, as well as an article for the Justice Gap, calling for the government to invest in increasing court capacity rather extending the Custody Time Limit. Read the government’s response 


Routes to recovery from the pandemic

The pandemic has piled pressure on the already struggling courts, exacerbating the significant backlog in criminal cases. In the summer of 2020, we brought together members to discuss challenges during the pandemic and what is needed for recovery. Members working in courts and sentencing discussed the use of remand, the advantages and disadvantages of virtual hearings, pressure on Family Drug and Alcohol Courts and more. 

Find out more

How to start reducing the prison population

In this briefing, we set out eight practical and incremental ways that the prison population could be reduced. Our recommendations include reversing the trend of increasing sentence lengths, reducing the use of short sentences, and reducing the number of people sent to prison to await trial.  

Read the report