What happens at a sentencing hearing?

When a defendant either pleads guilty or is convicted following a trial, they can be either sentenced immediately or the sentencing hearing may take place at a later date. The court will assess all aspects of the offence and the offender, aiming to arrive at a sentence that is fair and proportionate, and will explain why that sentence was given.

At the sentencing hearing:

  • The court will be informed of the charge and the guilty plea or verdict.
  • The prosecution will outline the facts of the case and draw attention to things that may make it more or less serious including the impact on victims. If a victim has made a Victim Personal Statement this will be considered by the court.
  • The defence will respond– they will aim to explain the circumstances of the offence and offender’s background and circumstances, in particular where they may make it less serious.
  • Both prosecution and defence are likely to refer to any relevant sentencing guidelines and suggest what offence category the case falls into.
  • If the case is being heard in the magistrates’ court and the offender has pleaded guilty or been convicted of an “either way” offence – that is, one that can be tried in Crown Court or the magistrates’ courts – the magistrates can commit the case to the Crown Court for sentencing if they feel their sentencing powers are not adequate to reflect the seriousness of the offence.
  • The court will pass sentence.  
    • The Court will follow any mandatory sentencing rules such as minimum sentence for some offences;
    • The Court must follow sentencing guidelines where these exist for the offence(s) in question unless it would not be in the interests of justice to do so;
    • Guidelines set out the approach to sentencing that judges and magistrates must follow, looking at the harm caused, the culpability of the offender and any aggravating and mitigating factors;
    • Previous relevant and recent convictions will be considered in arriving at the final sentence;
    • If the offender pleaded guilty, the court is obliged to take this into account, normally giving a reduction in sentence, the level of which will depend on when in the process the guilty plea was entered;
    • The court will also decide if it should make any ancillary orders. These would include things like compensation for the victim, disqualification from driving or restraining orders;
    • If the offender is being sentenced for multiple offences, the sentence will need to take this into account so that the final sentence is proportionate to the overall offending;
    • The court will announce the sentence;
    • Sentence types are discharges, fines, community sentences, or prison sentences which may in some circumstances be suspended. However, the type of offence will dictate what sentencing options the court has;
    • The court will then give reasons for the sentence;
  • The issue of costs will be addressed with the offender liable for certain costs associated with the case.