Using Sentencing Council guidelines

The offence guidelines include two structures: pre-Sentencing Council guidelines (used by the Sentencing Guidelines Council) and Sentencing Council guidelines.

Using Sentencing Council guidelines

This section of the user guide explains the key decisions involved in the sentencing process for Sentencing Council guidelines.

STEP ONE: Determining the offence category

The decision making process includes a two-step approach to assessing seriousness. The first step is to determine the offence category by means of an assessment of the offender’s culpability and the harm caused, or intended, by reference only to the factors set out at step one in each guideline. The contents are tailored for each offence and comprise the principal factual elements of the offence.

STEP TWO: Starting point and category range

The guidelines provide a starting point which applies to all offenders irrespective of plea or previous convictions. The guidelines also specify a category range for each offence category. The guidelines provide non-exhaustive lists of aggravating and mitigating factors relating to the context of the offence and to the offender. Sentencers should identify whether any combination of these, or other relevant factors, should result in an upward or downward adjustment from the starting point. In some cases, it may be appropriate to move outside the identified category range when reaching a provisional sentence.

This short video shows you how to use the expanded explanations in Step Two (start at 01:40).


Having reached a provisional sentence, there are a number of further steps within the guidelines. These steps are clearly set out within each guideline and are tailored specifically for each offence in order to ensure that only the most appropriate guidance is included within each offence specific guideline. The further steps include:

  • reduction for assistance to the prosecution;
  • reduction for guilty pleas (the court should take account of any potential reduction for a guilty plea in accordance with section 144 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the guideline for Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea (where first hearing is on or after 1 June 2017, or first hearing before 1 June 2017);
  • where an offender is being sentenced for multiple offences – the court’s assessment of the totality of the offending may result in a sentence above the range indicated for the individual offences, including a sentence of a different type (for more information, refer to the Totality guideline);
  • compensation orders and/or ancillary orders appropriate to the case (Magistrates’ court ancillary orders; Crown Court Compendium, Part II Sentencing, s7);
  • reasons for, and explain the effect of, the sentence.

Where there is no guideline for an offence, refer to the General guideline.