Serial offenders who shoplift or commit other petty offences should be denied the right to trial by jury, a senior magistrate has said.

Such offenders should have their cases heard by magistrates at a cost of around £900 rather than by a jury in the Crown court for some £3,400, John Fassenfelt, chair of the Magistrates’ Association, told the Daily Telegraph in an article published on 16 March.

It quotes Fassenfelt as saying: ‘The country can’t afford jury trial for prolific minor offenders. If I go and hit a police officer tomorrow and get charged with assault, that will be dealt with by magistrates. But if I go and steal a Mars bar I can elect to go to Crown court, which might cost an extra £2,500. For low-level theft offences that right should be removed.’

Fassenfelt said that the range of summary offences that are dealt with by magistrates without the option of a Crown court trial, such as common assault, taking a vehicle without consent and low-level criminal damage, should be extended to include low-level shoplifting and theft.

Up to £14m could be saved a year in court costs if 5,500 cases that currently go to the Crown court were heard by magistrates, while the Crown Prosecution Service would also be able to make savings.

The article quotes Jodie Blackstock of campaign group Justice as saying that around 80% of all trials are already dealt with by magistrates. She said: ‘We would stand by the right to choose and that’s because it’s still the best mechanism we have for ensuring a fair trial.’