Most Crown Courts now have an early guilty plea scheme. There has been plenty of discussion about exactly when a defendant should enter or indicate their guilty plea. The Court of Appeal have given their view in R v Caley  EWCA 2821.
In most cases the reduction in sentence is usually as follows:
At the earliest opportunity – one third;
When a trial has been set – one quarter;
At the door of the court or when the trial has begun – one tenth.
Here are the main principles from Caley:
1. There is a difference between a defendant admitting his guilt and entering a guilty plea.
The important time is when the defendant indicates his plea.This is the definition in s.144 Criminal Justice Act 2003. It does not necessarily mean being arraigned and actually entering the plea.
The fact that lawyers have to assess the evidence in a case and advise about the charges does not stop a defendant from admitting what he has done before a formal guilty plea is entered.
2. Credit for a guilty plea derives from the need for effective administration of justice.
This is the principle from paragraph 2.2 of the Sentencing Guidance Council’s Guideline – Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea. Credit is quite separate from mitigation.
3. Admissions in police interview should be treated as mitigation – not credit
They are a factor for downward adjustment of the sentence passed and are not a matter related to credit. They should be taken into account before considering credit for a guilty plea. The amount of reduction should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. For example admissions tendered on a voluntary basis before the police could have brought the allegation will be worth more.
4. Full credit will not normally be given for a guilty plea entered at the PCMH.
Lord Hughes said at para 18:
All this leads us to the clear conclusion that, absent particular considerations individual to the case, the first reasonable opportunity for the defendant to indicate (not necessarily enter) his plea of guilty, if that is his mind, is not the PCMH, This court pointed towards this conclusion in R v Chaytors  EWCA Crim 1810. The first reasonable opportunity is normally either at the Magistrates’ Court or immediately on arrival in the Crown Court – whether at a preliminary hearing or by way of a locally-approved system for indicating plea through his solicitors.
5. Courts should be very cautious before withholding credit in overwhelming cases.
Even if they do so then credit of 20% is appropriate.
6. Courts must not withhold credit just because the statutory maximum sentence is low.
The sentencing guideline says at paragraph 5.6:
The sentencer cannot remedy perceived defects (for example in an inadequate charge or maximum penalty) by refusal of the appropriate discount.