Criminal cases should be sent to the Crown court only if they are ‘clearly unsuitable’ for trial in the magistrates’ court, the Sentencing Council says in fresh guidance to ensure cases are tried and sentenced in the appropriate court.

The 'definitive allocation guideline' will come into effect on 1 March, the council said.

Its introduction means more cases will be retained for trial and sentence in the magistrates’ court. The council said that the guideline was unusual in dealing with the choice of court rather than the level of sentence, but 'it falls within the council’s statutory remit to produce an allocation guideline'. 

The guidance was drawn up by the council in response to Sir Brian Leveson’s (pictured) review of efficiency in criminal proceedings.

A section on youths jointly charged with adults has been expanded. It states that the ‘proper venue’ for the trial of any youth is ‘normally’ the youth court. ‘Subject to any statutory restrictions, that remains the case where a youth is charged jointly with an adult.’

Examples of factors that should be considered if it is in ‘the interests of justice’ to send the youth to Crown court include the age of the youth, the age gap between the youth and the adult, lack of maturity, relative culpability of the youth compared with the adult and lack of previous convictions.

The Law Society, in its response to a consultation on the guidance said magistrates should be trained to apply sentencing guidelines correctly to stop defendants ‘venue shopping’ for a more lenient sentence.

The Society suggested that better understanding by magistrates would reduce the risk of cases being sent ‘inappropriately’ to the Crown court.

The guidance states that if the court decides a case is suitable to be dealt with in the magistrates’ court. ‘It must warn the defendant that all sentencing options remain open and, if the defendant consents to summary trial and is convicted by the courts or pleads guilty, the defendant may be committed to the Crown court for sentence’.