Producing guidelines is one of the main roles of the Council and the box below sets out the process involved in developing a guideline from draft, through consultation stages, to a definitive version used by the judiciary. The Council’s first definitive guideline, on assault, came into force on 13 June 2011 and the Council is monitoring the use of this new guideline. The Council has replicated the step-by-step approach adopted in the assault guideline in its other offence specific guidelines whilst presenting information specific to each offence.
It is important to note that guidelines allow for the discretion of judges. Guidelines are intended to create a consistent approach and within that approach, judicial discretion is preserved. There is always room within the guideline for a judge to sentence the particular offender for the particular offence that is in front of him or her. If in any particular case, the judge feels it is within the interests of justice to sentence outside the guideline, the Coroners and Justice Act specifically allows for this.
The full functions of the Council are set out in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
Step 1 – Priorities
Council identifies work plan priorities – this could be based on concerns about an existing guideline, offence types which lack a guideline or because we have been required by statute to look at a particular area
Step 2 – Research
Research is undertaken; policy and legal investigations are carried out; the approach to the particular guideline is discussed by Council and agreed and an initial draft guideline is then 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. The Council also produces a draft resource assessment and an equality impact assessment at this step.
Step 5 – Responses
Council considers the responses to the consultation and develops a response paper and definitive version of the guideline, resource assessment and equality impact assessment.
Step 6 – Publication
Council issues the definitive guideline and supports training for sentencers where necessary.
Step 7 – Monitoring
The use and effect of guidelines is monitored via the Crown Court Sentencing Survey and other data collection.
The Council is outward-facing, responsive and consultative and draws on expertise from relevant fields wherever necessary whilst ensuring the legal sustainability of all its work. The Council aims to foster close working relationships with judicial, government and non-government bodies whilst retaining its independence. The Council will engage with the public on sentencing, offer information and encourage debate. It will focus on three areas of work; sentencing guidelines, research and analysis and public confidence.
The Sentencing Council promotes a clear, fair and consistent approach to sentencing in particular through its work on sentencing guidelines. Draft guidelines are fully consulted on and designed to be useful to all those who refer to them.
Research and analysis
The Act placed a number of obligations on the Council with regard to monitoring and data analysis. To fulfill these statutory obligations the Council is responsible for its own independent statistical analysis, impact assessments and research to support its functions.
To find out more about this subject, see the analysis and research pages.
The Council works to improve public confidence in sentencing. It will seek to do this by increasing the quantity and quality of information and engagement available to the public on sentencing. In all of its work on confidence it will look to understand and respond to the needs of members of the public who are directly affected by sentencing, particularly as victims and witnesses.