About guidelines

Sentencing guidelines help judges and magistrates decide the appropriate sentence for a criminal offence.

All guidelines that are in force are available on the publications page.

Criminal offences in England and Wales are very broadly defined and can have different levels of seriousness. Guidelines help to ensure that courts across England and Wales are consistent in their approach to sentencing.

According to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, when sentencing an offender for an offence committed on or after 6 April 2010, a court must follow any relevant sentencing guidelines, unless it is contrary to the interests of justice to do so. When sentencing an offender for an offence committed before 6 April 2010, the courts must have regard to any relevant sentencing guidelines.

Sentencing guidelines are available for most of the significant offences sentenced in the magistrates’ court and for a wide range of offences in the Crown Court. There is also guidance on general sentencing issues and principles. These guidelines are not specific to individual offences. Where no guideline exists, judges refer to court of appeal judgments to examine how sentences have been reached for similar cases in the past.

Each new guideline is consulted on as part of its development and you can get involved by responding to consultations.

What guidelines do

Guidelines provide guidance on factors the court should take into account that may affect the sentence given. They set out different levels of sentence based on the harm caused to the victim and how blameworthy the offender is.

Offences happen in many different ways with many different results. For example, assault offences can range from an argument where someone pushes someone else causing no injury, up to a carefully-planned gang attack that causes life-changing injuries. It is therefore necessary to have a range of sentences that appropriately reflect the seriousness of each individual offence.

How guidelines are developed

Step 1 – Priorities
Council identifies high priority work and research begins.

Step 2 – Research
Research is undertaken; policy and legal investigations are carried out; the approach is agreed and an initial draft is created.

Step 3 – Approach
Council members discuss the draft guideline, refine the approach and agree on the broad structure and detail which will form the basis for consultation.

Step 4 – Consultation
Council consults the statutory consultees, criminal justice professionals and wider public over a 12 week period. A draft resource assessment and an equality impact assessment are also produced.

Step 5 – Responses
Council considers the responses to the consultation and develops a definitive version of the guideline.

Step 6 – Publication
Council issues the definitive guideline and associated publications and supports training for sentencers where necessary.

Step 7 – Monitoring
The use of the guideline is monitored via the Crown Court Sentencing Survey.