Plea

A statement in which the accused says in court that he or she is guilty or not guilty of a crime.

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The process of entering a plea arises in the context of criminal proceedings. Once charged with a criminal offence the accused will be asked whether they wish to plead guilty or not guilty to the offence. This is likely to be at the first hearing or at least early in the proceedings when they appear at the Magistrates' court and probably acting upon the advise of their legal adviser.

In the event of a guilty plea there will be no trial and the court will pass sentence. If a not guilty plea is entered arrangements will be made for a trial.

The fact that a plea has been entered does not mean that the accused cannot change their plea at a later date. The most likely scenario is when an individual is charged with a criminal offence and pleads not guilty and then changes their plea to guilty as the date for the commencement of the trial approaches. Similarly, although unusual, it would be possible for an accused to enter a guilty plea but then change their plea to not guilty.

At present a defendant who accepts responsibility at the earliest possible stage will usually be entitled to a discounted sentence for doing so if they enter a guilty plea. Consequently a solicitor will often take care to advise on the merits of an early plea as opposed to waiting until the commencement of the trial.

The principle of the discount system for an early plea is that it recognises that the individual's early plea will dispense with the expense of a trial which will fall on the tax payer. In addition it will avoid victims and witnesses possibly having to relive the experience in court should they be required to give evidence or hear graphic and detailed accounts of what happened.

The process of entering a plea as detailed above should not be confused with the expression 'plea in mitigation' which is when an opportunity, towards the end of the trial, is given to the defendant or their legal representative to put before the court any mitigating factors or circumstances which they would like the court to take into account. Such matters are not relevant to any issue of liability but may still be relevant when considering an appropriate sentence. Such matters may relate to the accused's behaviour, financial circumstances or background generally.

Introduced in 1997, 'plea before venue' was aimed at reducing the number of cases magistrates felt it necessary to send to the Crown Court.

A defendant is first asked to indicate a plea before magistrates decide whether to accept jurisdiction to try the case.

The intention was that magistrates could take account of an early guilty plea and the effects of this on sentence discounts, this would mean they could retain more such cases for sentencing.

However, 'plea before venue' did not have this effect and in fact the immediate effect was to increase the overall proportion of either way cases which magistrates sent to the Crown Court for trial or sentence.

Sexual abuse victim killed herself after giving evidence - The Guardian

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