Young prisoners in England and Wales are being rushed to plead guilty under American-style bargaining arrangements, with some defendants having just 30 minutes to decide, it is claimed.
The survey results and focus group discussions with people serving sentences raised concerns about the lack of informed choice in a criminal justice system that incentivizes early guilty pleas.
The model of plea bargaining, made famous by American court dramas, where defendants effectively negotiate with prosecutors over charges and potential sentences, is increasingly followed around the world.
Such negotiation is not formally part of the system in England and Wales, except in complex fraud cases, but court sentencing guidelines suggest that those who plead guilty at the first hearing for other crimes can benefit from a reduction of up to a third of their sentence. . There is a sliding scale of sentence reductions as criminal proceedings continue, and informal bargaining is widespread.
A report from the NGO Fair trials offers anecdotal evidence that defendants are offered little guidance and rushed advice on their pleas, with little judicial oversight over decision-making, raising allegations that some are pressured into admitting guilt for crimes they have not committed.
Unpublished data from the Criminal Cases Review Commission in England and Wales shows that of the 128 cases referred to the Court of Appeal as potential miscarriages of justice since 2012, around 50 cases involved defendants who originally pleaded guilty.
Prior to a court hearing, lawyers must follow guidelines on the level of information they give their clients before pleading guilty, but there is no court process to ensure defendants understand their rights. .
Unlike in the United States, there is also no requirement for judges to thoroughly question a defendant to verify that he has grasped the implications of a guilty plea before the plea is accepted.
A contributor to the report, named only Faisal, said: “Even when you go to court, you don’t really get… what like 20 to 30 minutes with your lawyer before he calls you.
“They even rush [you] sometimes. I clearly remember yeah, my lawyer sometimes shoved me like ‘We’re gonna have to bear it then we’re gonna be guilty’…”They’re probably gonna give you that amount of time”…”You’ll be out in duh duh duh’…J feel like a lot of things are under pressure.
A second, named Amina, who initially pleaded not guilty to the charges against her but worried about the impact of the proceedings on her father’s health, said: ‘I was not guilty so I don’t Shouldn’t have pleaded guilty but I had no support system or anyone to tell me that they would fight for me for my innocence.
The report, Young minds, big decisionsbased on a survey of 27 inmates and focus group discussions with 12 people over the past year who had experience with the criminal justice system as young adults, notes that adults between the ages of 18 and 24 years account for around a third of criminal cases in England and Wales.
The report states: “It is clear that many young people do not receive adequate information to make their decisions about how to advocate, or, when they do receive this information, it is not provided in an easily understandable way.
“Many people felt that the pros and cons of pleading ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ had not been properly explained to them, including the impact such decisions might have on their rights and given inaccurate or misleading advice about the potential outcomes of their cases. This often led them to make decisions that they later regretted.
He adds: “Their stories detail a system that not only fails to equip young adults with the knowledge and information needed to make the best decisions for their cases and encourages them to plead guilty to offenses they do not committed, but they also point to broader systemic problems. failures that have impeded justice and fairness for the defendants, regardless of age or experience”.
A government spokesman said: “Ensuring defendants plead guilty as soon as possible means that victims and witnesses do not have to relive their potentially traumatic experiences in court. Sentencing is the business of independent judges, who have a duty to follow the guidelines established by the Sentencing Council.