FAQs Sentencing guidelines

Sentencing guidelines

Why do judges need guidelines?

Legislation is broadly set out which gives judges and magistrates considerable discretion in sentencing matters. Sentencing guidelines help sentencers to decide the type and length of the sentence and set out the factors they should consider.

It is important that there is consistency in sentencing and sentencing guidelines play a key role in this by setting out a standard approach for all judges and magistrates to follow.

For more information, go to How sentences are worked out.

What sentencing guidelines are available?

Sentencing guidelines for the magistrates’ courts cover most of the significant offences sentenced. They are contained in the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines.

Sentencing guidelines cover some of the most serious and most frequently dealt with offences including attempted murder, assault, robbery and sexual offences. The sentencing guidelines can be found in the Guidelines section.

Guidelines from the Court of Appeal are also available in the form of guideline judgments.

What happens if there is no guideline?

Where no guideline exists, judges refer to important Court of Appeal judgments to examine how sentences have been reached for similar cases in the past.

Do courts have to follow the guidelines?

The duties of the courts in relation to sentencing guidelines are set out in legislation.

When sentencing an offender for an offence committed on or after 6 April 2010, the court ‘must follow’ any relevant sentencing guidelines unless it would be 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.

For more information go to About guidelines.

How are guidelines developed?

The Sentencing Council follows a step by step process to develop sentencing guidelines. After the topic for the guideline has been decided, the Council undertakes research. Following this a consultation paper and draft guideline are issued. After consideration of the responses, the Council may issue a definitive guideline which it will monitor and keep under review.

For more information go to About guidelines.

How do sentencing guidelines reflect the interests of victims of crime?

First of all, the Council is required by law to consider the impact of sentencing decisions on victims and the law also requires there to be a Council member with experience of the promotion of the welfare of victims.

The Council also considers the interests of victims by conducting research into their perceptions and experiences of crime so that these insights can be considered in the development of guidelines.

In addition, victims have the opportunity to give their views on any sentencing guideline the Council develops – there is always a public consultation before a guideline comes into force in the courts.

Each guideline also requires a court to start the sentencing process by assessing the harm caused to the victim. Courts then need to decide how serious the offence is by looking at all the facts of the case, which will cover a number of factors relating directly to the victim.

Another step used in the sentencing guidelines reminds courts to consider whether the offender should pay compensation to the victim for injury, loss, or damage as a result of the offence.

To find out more about this issue see here.