1. Why is the Council asking us to fill in these forms?

The Council has a statutory duty to assess the impact of its guidelines and it is very important that our research covers the magistrates’ courts given that most offences are sentenced here. Thanks to the great work of court staff and a high level of participation from magistrates and district judges, our previous data collections that have looked at offences like theft and drugs have yielded important insights into the working of these guidelines.

2. Why these offences?

New sentencing guidelines for assault offences will be introduced in 2021. In order to understand the impact of these guidelines, we need to collect data before the guideline is introduced and compare this to data collected afterwards. We are therefore collecting data on three assault offences at this stage. After all three of the new guidelines have been in operation for some time, we will collect data on the three offences again.

We are also collecting data on two criminal damage offences in relation to the guideline that came into force in October 2019. These data will be compared to the data that was collected before the guidelines came into force. By comparing sentencing practice before and after new guidelines are introduced, we will be able to understand what effects the guidelines have had.

3. Can’t the Council get this information from anywhere else?

Unfortunately it cannot. The court’s administrative systems can tell us what end sentences are after guilty plea, so we can examine whether sentences stay the same (allowing for normal fluctuations in sentences) or go up or down after the introduction of a guideline. However, this information will not tell us about the reasons behind any trends, in terms of changes in sentencing behaviour resulting from our guidelines.

4. Is it mandatory to participate in the survey?

It is not mandatory to complete the survey, but the data we collect will help us to understand the impact of sentencing guidelines and help to shape guidelines for the future. We therefore hope you will take part in this and are very appreciative of your support.

5. Does it matter whether I am using my own iPad, court iPad, or another device?

No, the links are available via the ‘SC form’ icon on court iPads, the Sentencing Council app for iPad, and the Sentencing Council website, although the ‘SC form’ icon is only on court iPads. When you press the links on the iPad, it will take you to the online form. Note that there are no links in third-party apps. The icon across all devices looks like this: 

6. Where can I get help to fill out the form?

The Sentencing Council have produced a helpful instructional video detailing where to find the forms and how to complete them.

7. What will the links look like?

Below are screenshots of the links to the relevant forms on the app and on the website:

Magistrates’ courts landing page

At the top of each relevant guideline page (example below is from the Common Assault guideline page)

8. Does each magistrate need to fill out a form for each offence?

No, we only require one form per offender.

9. How long will it take to complete the form?

Each form will take roughly 5-8 minutes to complete.

10. When would be a good time to fill in these forms?

We have worked hard to make these forms quick to complete and they could be filled out either during or just after the sentencing process, for instance, while the court legal advisor is resulting after a case has been seen.

11. What if the Wi-Fi is down?

Without Wi-Fi, you will not be able to fill in the form. If this happens, it would be great if you could jot down the key information on paper and fill out the form later.

12. Are you collecting data from both adult and youth courts?

We are only collecting data from adult courts. We are not collecting data on offenders aged under 18.

13. Will we see the results of this research?

Yes. Our research and analytical work are published on the Sentencing Council website.

Not only is the research published, but the Council uses the information generated through these exercises in the development and revision of guidelines. For example, previous exercises on theft and robbery offences indicated areas where the guidelines may benefit from revision and, as a result, the Council are committed to reviewing them in due course. We are also in the process of revising the assault guidelines, which has included making changes based on findings from Crown Court data collection.

The work on these five offences will therefore help the Council to understand any need for revisions to guidelines, to help further ensure that guidelines promote fair, proportionate and consistent sentencing.

You can read the assessments of impact for the theft, robbery and assault guidelines here.

14. How will the data be stored and managed?

Data collected will be stored securely on our servers and will only be accessible by the Sentencing Council Analysis and Research team. We store data in line with GDPR protocols as well as our own privacy notice and retention policy. The survey does not ask for any of your personal data and does not ask for names of defendants.

15. Will you be examining my sentencing as an individual? Will I get feedback on sentences I have given?

No. Our analysis will look at sentencing behaviour overall and there will not be any way to attribute particular forms to specific individuals.

16. I have been prompted to enter my Citrix password. Where can I find it?

You should not need your Citrix password to access the forms from the court iPads. However, if for some reason you are prompted to enter one, this password should be written on the back of the device. If you cannot find it or need a reminder, please ask your legal adviser.

17. Have all of the correct permissions been given to collect this data?

We have been given permission from both the Senior Presiding Judge and the HMCTS Data Access Panel for this data collection.

18. How will you be considering the impact of COVID-19 on the courts?

We have liaised with HMCTS to determine the most appropriate launch date of the research, considering the increased demand on the courts.

We have also included a question in the survey where you can leave any comments on the impact of COVID-19 on the case.