Credit For a Guilty Plea

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Why get credit for a guilty plea

 To encourage those pleading guilty to do so as soon as possible because it:

  • normally reduces the impact of crime upon a victim
  • avoids victims and witnesses having to testify
  • saves time and money.

Putting the prosecution to proof

It is of course still possible to put the prosecution to proof, but the later the plea is entered, the lower the reduction in sentence.

Timing of the plea

The earlier the plea is entered, the greater the benefit.

The court will look at the stage in the proceedings which a defendant indicated their intention to plead guilty and the circumstances in which the indication was given. It does not matter how strong the evidence is against a defendant if they plead guilty at the earliest opportunity.

Other mitigating factors

The guilty plea is independent of any personal mitigation, such as admissions in interview, cooperation with the police and remorse. These are factors not part of the reduction for guilty plea and should be considered prior to the guilty plea reduction.

Reduction for guilty plea and disqualification or penalty points

A reduction for a guilty plea only applies to the punitive elements of the offence and not to ancillary orders such as disqualification and penalty points.

Staged Approach 

  1. The magistrates should determine sentence in accordance with the sentencing guidelines for the offence.
  2. Determine the level of reduction for a guilty plea in accordance with the guidelines.
  3. State the amount of reduction.
  4. Apply the reduction to the sentence.
  5. Follow any further steps in the offence specific guideline to determine the final sentence.

Amount of credit

The maximum credit is one third reducing on a sliding scale depending on when the plea is entered.

  • One third – the first hearing in which a plea is sought
  • One quarter – sliding scale after the first hearing
  • One tenth – on the first day of trial. Regard will be had to how and when the guilty plea was first indicated relevant to the progress of the case and can be reduced to nothing if during the course of a trial.

Plea in absence

If a defendant pleads guilty without attending court in accordance with the CPR guidelines and pleads guilty within the relevant time limits, it will be deemed that the plea of guilty is entered at the first stage of proceedings and maximum credit will be given e.g. Single Justice Procedure Notice – plea within 21 days of receipt of the Notice.

Effect of credit

 If a defendant was about to receive a custodial sentence, it could be reduced to a community order and a community order to a financial penalty. If the court imposes one type of sentence rather than another, giving credit for a guilty plea, normally there would be no further reduction for a guilty plea. If a less severe sentence is due to other factors the appropriate reduction should be applied in the normal way.

More than one summary offence

Maximum sentence is six months. If there is a guilty plea for each and consecutive sentences would give the maximum of six months the court may make modest additional reductions to the overall sentence to reflect the benefit derived from the guilty plea.

Either way offences

It may reduce the length of custody to reflect the guilty plea and may enable magistrates to retain jurisdiction of either way offences rather than commit for sentence to the Crown Court.

Exceptions to the guidelines

 If a guilty plea is not entered at the first stage and the court is satisfied:

  • There is a reduced ability of the defendant to understand what the offence is alleged against him or it is otherwise unreasonable to expect the defendant to indicate a guilty plea sooner than was done, the court can still impose a third reduction
  • There is a difference between needing to receive the evidence and have sight of it to understand whether to plead guilty or not to delaying the guilty plea to assess the strength of the prosecution evidence and the prospect of conviction or acquittal.

Newton Hearing and special reasons

If the defence version is rejected, the reduction which would have been available should normally be halved. If witnesses called, it may be appropriate to further decrease the reduction.

Conviction for a lesser offence

If indicated a guilty plea to a lesser offence should still get the maximum reduction.

For further information and advice please contact us on 0115 7841 588 or email

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