SA1 Previous convictions

Effective from: 01 October 2019

Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

Guidance on the use of previous convictions

The following guidance should be considered when seeking to determine the degree to which previous convictions should aggravate sentence:

Section 65 of the Sentencing Code states that:

(1) This section applies where a court is considering the seriousness of an offence (“the current offence”) committed by an offender who has one or more relevant previous convictions.

(2) The court must treat as an aggravating factor each relevant previous conviction that it considers can reasonably be so treated, having regard in particular to—

(a) the nature of the offence to which the conviction relates and its relevance to the current offence, and

(b) the time that has elapsed since the conviction.

(3) Where the court treats a relevant previous conviction as an aggravating factor under subsection (2) it must state in open court that the offence is so aggravated.

  1. Previous convictions are considered at step two in the Council’s offence-specific guidelines.
  2. The primary significance of previous convictions (including convictions in other jurisdictions) is the extent to which they indicate trends in offending behaviour and possibly the offender’s response to earlier sentences.
  3. Previous convictions are normally relevant to the current offence when they are of a similar type.
  4. Previous convictions of a type different from the current offence may be relevant where they are an indication of persistent offending or escalation and/or a failure to comply with previous court orders.
  5. Numerous and frequent previous convictions might indicate an underlying problem (for example, an addiction) that could be addressed more effectively in the community and will not necessarily indicate that a custodial sentence is necessary.
  6. If the offender received a non-custodial disposal for the previous offence, a court should not necessarily move to a custodial sentence for the fresh offence.
  7. In cases involving significant persistent offending, the community and custody thresholds may be crossed even though the current offence normally warrants a lesser sentence. If a custodial sentence is imposed it should be proportionate and kept to the necessary minimum.
  8. The aggravating effect of relevant previous convictions reduces with the passage of time; older convictions are less relevant to the offender’s culpability for the current offence and less likely to be predictive of future offending.
  9. Where the previous offence is particularly old it will normally have little relevance for the current sentencing exercise.
  10. The court should consider the time gap since the previous conviction and the reason for it. Where there has been a significant gap between previous and current convictions or a reduction in the frequency of offending this may indicate that the offender has made attempts to desist from offending in which case the aggravating effect of the previous offending will diminish.
  11. Where the current offence is significantly less serious than the previous conviction (suggesting a decline in the gravity of offending), the previous conviction may carry less weight.
  12. When considering the totality of previous offending a court should take a rounded view of the previous crimes and not simply aggregate the individual offences.
  13. Where information is available on the context of previous offending this may assist the court in assessing the relevance of that prior offending to the current offence