Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 - The New Changes

A number of major changes to the criminal law in the UK have been made under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. These include changes to sentencing rules and the creation of new criminal offences – it's likely many more people will face custodial sentences and also that some sentences will be longer.  Surprisingly, this was the product of the dying hours of the last coalition government between the Conservatives (who tend to advocate harsher punishments) and the Liberal Democrats (who tend to push for sentences in the community where possible).

As a criminal lawyer and direct access barrister representing many defendants in criminal cases, Marcus Croskell keeps a close eye on changes to the law and implications for the public. Here is a look at some of the changes being brought in under this law, which was drawn up under the previous Coalition Government and is now in force.

Changes to Sentencing

A number of changes under the law involve tougher sentences including:

Knife Possession: The new 'second strike' knife possession law applies to anyone aged 18 or over caught with weapon for a second time and carries a minimum 6-month sentence, with the possibility of up to 4 years imprisonment.  Marcus Croskell dealt with one of the first cases in the country caught by this legislation with a client caught in possession of a knife two days after the legislation came into force in July 2015.  The particular young man had previously been caught with a cosh and prosecuted for being in possession of an offensive weapon.  In July 2015, he was caught after midnight with a knife in his pocket which he was using to scrape paint out of his graffiti can (an activity which he did legally in designated areas in Norwich).  The knife was simply found on his person upon a stop and search by police and at no stage was it produced or brandished.  The consequences under the second strike law is that he now faces the prospect of a mandatory six months. This new law is designed to stop people carrying knives but I fear it might lead to an extra burden on the prison population and experts predict that a 1,000 people will likely be getting mandatory custodial terms.

This is similar to the 'three strikes' law for burglars which has applied since 1999, meaning that people convicted of a third burglary will receive a minimum 3-year sentence unless there are special circumstances as explained on the Criminal Law Blog.

Changes to Cautions: There will be less use of these in future as they are being banned for serious offences and the police will be prevented from using repeat cautions for less serious offences.  It has been noticeable since the credit crunch, under the later stages of the labour government and those since, that the police have been using cautions as a way of disposing of cases in a quick and cost-effective way.  However, this by no means guarantees justice.

In a civilised society, cost should not be the only factor influencing whether or not a person is cautioned.  I have seen first time offenders being unreasonably offered cautions for very serious offences including rape and grievous bodily harm.  In my view this is all driven by pressure on police officers to get results (thereby increasing their positive statistics), rather than protecting the public.  Hopefully, this legislation is the long awaited turn around in policy to make sure the victims of crime are put first, rather than pure public finances.

Other Changes: Longer sentences are being imposed for causing death by driving while disqualified. In addition to the above change, child rapists and terrorists will only be released early if a parole board rules that they no longer pose a danger to the public. 

New Offences

Several new criminal offences have been created and these include those involving behaviour in the digital arena. These include:

·      New offence of revenge porn – This sounds like an American term but it poses a very serious problem for society. Those familiar with the internet and forums, comment sections on websites, blogs and social media will know that the anonymity of the internet offers people the chance to comment without the perceived threat of retribution.  However, this is a fallacy.  Two years ago, Ryan Giggs stopped a leading newspaper from publishing an article about his extra-marital affairs.  However, those on Twitter were quick to name the person, which put them in breach of the super injunction.  Those people have now been tracked down and are being brought to court for contempt of the court order and could face prison.  This should act as a warning to anyone using the internet to get revenge or to make vicious and malicious comments; the internet does not provide the protection that it may at first blush appear to do.  However the more pernicious side of online trolling is the use of images and video from relationships that are then used in a malicious and belittling way by ex-partners and so-called friends.  This new law makes it an offence with punishment up to two years.

·      The general offence of online ‘trolling’ was already an offence under the Malicious Communications Act but now has an increased sentence of up to two years.

·      Extreme pornography showing images of rape is created as a new offence

·      Four new criminal offences of juror misconduct – These include researching cases on the internet and sharing the information with other jurors, plus other offences.   Jurors are always given a clear warning by the judge at the beginning of each case and prior to retiring for the deliberations not to go onto social media sites such as Facebook or similar or to pursue any avenue of independent research.  This jeopardises trials as the parties have no idea what they have seen, whether it is a correct or incorrect state of affairs, and no idea whether it complies with the rules of court.  The jury must decide the case on the evidence put before them by the parties.  If they now go off on a frolic of their own there are new penalties in place.  Recently a juror who was in recess deciding verdicts with her colleagues contacted a Defendant on Facebook after they the jury had  acquitted him but were still deliberating upon the verdict of his co-defendants.  She received new and unfiltered information from the defendant that she passed onto the jury.  This may have resulted in the victims not getting justice or alternatively an acquittal that was not justified.  Happily, the judge was made aware of the contact but she went on to face a term in prison.

·      Causing serious injury by driving while disqualified – The courts have historically treated those that breach a court order by being disqualified very severely with automatic prison sentences for repeat offenders. However, this new law makes is inevitable that a substantial prison sentence will result.

·      Finally, the Act has created a new offence of remaining unlawfully at large following a recall from licence – Being on licence is the period of a prison sentence that a person is released prior to the full term.  The basic rule is that a person serves half their sentence in custody and the remainder in the community.  For instance, a person subject to a four-year sentence will serve two years in prison and two years on ‘licence’ in the community.  If they breach their licence by failing to comply with the terms that are set by the parole board and probation service, or commit a further criminal offence in the operational period, they will be liable to recall to custody to serve all or part of the remaining part of their sentence.  Marcus Croskell has historically represented many prisoners before the parole board who are subject to recall, trying to secure their release before the expiry of the substantive sentence.  This new legislation creates a new and separate offence of absconding when subject to recall.  Marcus Croskell recently represented a prisoner at HMP Bure in Norfolk who would have committed this offence as he was notified of his recall and then hid, albeit for only four days, before giving himself up.  This could result in a consecutive sentence to the period of recall and prevent the parole board from releasing the person before the end of the substantive term of the main sentence.

If you face a criminal charge, it is essential that you have professional assistance from an expert.  You may be eligible for legal aid and Marcus Croskell can refer you, where appropriate, to a recommended solicitor to help you with your case.  If however you wish to pay privately because you cannot get legal aid (because of your income), criminal lawyer Marcus Croskell can assist you at every stage of your case.

If you would like assistance, please contact Marcus Croskell for your free initial legal enquiry on 0843 8862603 or EMAIL HERE.

Marcus Croskell represents people in all types of court and is an expert criminal barrister.  He has dealt with a whole range of different types of case and can advise you all through the whole process, giving you expert guidance on how the justice system works.