Who does what?

There are a number of different bodies, in addition to the Sentencing Council, who have a role to play in sentencing.

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Click above for a simplified diagram of the criminal justice system

These include:


Judges and magistrates have a key role in sentencing, being the ones who actually pass sentences, deciding on the appropriate type and length of sentence. They must work within the laws set by parliament and follow sentencing guidelines where they exist. They are independent of both parliament and the government so that they can make decisions freely and fairly. For more information please see the Judiciary of England and Wales website.


Parliament is responsible for bringing in laws by producing legislation. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 established the sentencing framework in England and Wales. It has also introduced maximum and minimum sentences for criminal offences. For example, it set down in law that a person can get the maximum of seven years for theft or a life sentence for rape. Minimum sentences have also been introduced by legislation, such as a minimum of five years in prison for certain types of gun crime, and a minimum of three years in jail when someone is convicted of a third burglary. It has also created and set rules about different types of sentences and when and who they can be given to. For example, there are differences in the kinds of sentence that can be given to adults and under 18s. Parliament has also introduced principles such as offenders being released on licence half way through a prison sentence and that there should be a reduction in sentence for a guilty plea. Parliament also has a body called the Justice Committee which looks at the policies of the Ministry of Justice, the money it spends and how it is run.

Parole Board

The Parole Board is an independent body that assesses the risks of releasing prisoners and helps decide whether they can be safely released from prison. Although they have no part to play in sentencing itself, the Parole Board has responsibility for protecting the public and managing:

  • the early release of prisoners serving fixed-length sentences of 4 years or more
  • the release of prisoners who are serving life sentences or indeterminate sentences for public protection
  • the re-release of prisoners who had been given life or indeterminate sentences and were then re-imprisoned

For more information please see the Parole Board website.

Probation Service

The National Probation Service (NPS) was set up on 1 June 2014 to manage high risk offenders released into the community, along with 21 community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) that manage low and medium risk offenders. They are responsible for:

  • preparing pre-sentence reports for courts, to help them select the most appropriate sentence;
  • managing approved premises for offenders with a residence requirement on their sentence;
  • assessing offenders in prison to prepare them for release on licence to the community, when they will come under their supervision;
  • helping all offenders serving sentences in the community to meet the requirements ordered by the courts;
  • communicating with and prioritising the wellbeing of victims of serious sexual and violent offences, when the offender has received a prison sentence of 12 months or more, or is detained as a mental health patient

For more information please see the National Probation Service website.

Youth Offending Teams

Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) supervise young people and are made up of representatives from the police, probation services, social services, health, education, drugs and alcohol misuse and housing officers. The YOT identifies the needs of each young offender by and the specific problems that make the young person offend as well as measuring the risk they pose to others. This enables the YOT to identify suitable action to prevent further offending. For more information please see the Youth Offending Teams website

Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales. Its functions are to:

  • advise the police on cases for possible prosecution;
  • review cases submitted by the police;
  • determine any charges in more serious or complex cases;
  • prepare cases for court; and
  • present cases at court.

For more information please see the CPS website.

Ministry of Justice

The Ministry of Justice is the government department responsible for criminal, civil and family justice, democracy and rights. It has responsibility for the different parts of the justice system: the courts, prisons, probation services and attendance centres. It is also responsible for making new laws, strengthening democracy, and safeguarding human rights. For more information please see the Ministry of Justice website.