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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 February 2006, 10:54 GMT
Magistrates attack ABH proposals
Police officer outside Bow Street Magistrates' Court in London
ABH cases can be heard at magistrates' court or crown court
The Magistrates' Association has hit out at calls for lesser sentences for those causing actual bodily harm (ABH).

Government advisers say those guilty of the offence should not be jailed if there are no aggravating factors, but be considered for a community sentence.

But the magistrates' body says this is "too low" a start point for sentencing.

ABH is an offence of assault, which causes hurt to the victim that "need not be permanent, but must be more than transient and trifling".

An example may be an assault which causes a bruise or a graze.

We do not accept that an assault resulting in a profit of 50 pence would be less serious than one resulting in a profit of thousands of pounds
Magistrates' Association

Magistrates were responding to a consultation paper published by independent experts working for the government - the Sentencing Advisory Panel (SAP) - who made a number of recommendations at the end of 2005.

"The association does not agree with the starting point of community penalty for ABH," said the Magistrates' Association.

"It may well be that a community penalty is imposed for this offence, but the starting point is too low and does not fit with the maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment."

ABH cases can be heard in magistrates' court or crown court. A case will be passed up to crown court by magistrates if they take the view that it is too serious for them to deal with.

In magistrates' court the offence carries a maximum six months in prison, and at crown court a maximum of five years.

'Level of profit'

And a suggestion by the SAP that common assault should usually be dealt with by a fine was also rejected by magistrates.

They said a community penalty should be the starting point for the offence, and were not convinced that the "level of profit" from an assault should be a factor in sentencing.

"We do not accept that an assault resulting in a profit of 50 pence would be less serious than one resulting in a profit of thousands of pounds," they said.

"The degree of injury would be the focus."

Last autumn the SAP published a new list of guide sentences for crimes from attempted murder to common assault, which could eventually be part of new instructions issued to judges by the Sentencing Guidelines Council.

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