The Court of Appeal
There have been judicially created sentencing guidelines in England and Wales for over 25 years. Since the early 1980s, the Court of Appeal increasingly laid down guidelines in the form of judgments. Even then, however it was relatively rare for the Lord Chief Justice to deliver guideline judgments and by the late 1990s, these judgments covered only a small proportion of offences.
Sentencing Advisory Panel
When drafting its judgments, the Court of Appeal was constrained by the material on which reliance could be placed. To resolve that problem, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 created the Sentencing Advisory Panel (SAP). The Panel was established to draft and consult on proposals for guidelines and refer them back to the Court of Appeal for their consideration and, in that way, to inform the issuing of a guideline judgment. The Court of Appeal was not obliged to accept the Panel’s recommendations but in most cases did so, sometimes with modifications. The important feature was that the laying down of guidelines remained under the control of the senior judiciary.
Sentencing Guidelines Council
In 2001, the Halliday Report recommended that new structures were required in order to move towards comprehensive sentencing guidelines and so it was that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 created the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC). The SAP continued to draft and consult on guidelines but the SGC, rather than the Court of Appeal, took ultimate responsibility for the creation and form of any guideline that was issued. Although a small step, it was the first time that anyone other than a judge had been involved in setting sentencing guidelines.
The Sentencing Council
The Sentencing Advisory Panel and the Sentencing Guidelines Council created a significant momentum which led to the creation of the Sentencing Council in 2010. Judges and practitioners alike have constantly referred to their work which changed the approach to this important aspect of criminal justice. The job of the Sentencing Council has been to build on what had already been achieved – evolution not revolution. To read more about the work of the Sentencing Council, see the section on Our Work.