Glossary

A – E F – M N – Z
  • Open court – the majority of hearings in courts in England and Wales are held in open court whereby the court is open to the public to go and watch. Some sensitive cases are heard in private, known as ‘in camera’.
  • Parliament – the national representative body representing the UK made up of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, responsible for passing laws.
  • Parole Board – an independent body that assesses the risks of releasing prisoners and decides whether they can be safely released into the community.
  • Plea and trial preparation hearings – Plea and trial preparation hearings are held in the Crown Court when a defendant has been sent to the Crown Court for trial.  At the PTPH the defendant will be read the indictment and asked to plead – guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, sentencing will normally follow immediately but in some cases may be postponed pending pre-sentence reports. If the defendant pleads not guilty, then a timetable will be drawn up for pre-trial preparation and the trial date will be set. 
  • Pre-sentence report – a report, generally prepared by the probation service, to assist the court in determining the most suitable way of dealing with an offender. It should include an assessment of the nature and seriousness of the offence and the impact on the victim. A court will usually obtain a pre-sentence report before imposing a community or custodial sentence.
  • Prison sentence – prison is used when a crime is so serious, or an offender’s record is so bad, no other sentence will do. Offenders will normally spend half their sentence in prison, and the rest on licence in the community. Being on licence means offenders have to obey certain rules, which could include wearing an electronic tag which restricts where they can go. If they don’t follow the rules, they can be sent back to prison.
  • Rehabilitation – one of the purposes of sentencing is to assist and encourage offenders to turn away from crime and live a productive life in society. This may take the form of training in life skills within prison or in the community.
  • Restorative justice – a process which brings together people harmed by crime or conflict with those responsible for the harm, to find a positive way forward. The victim may have the opportunity to tell the offender about the impact of the crime and they may agree how the harm may be resolved.
  • Sentence – the punishment that a court imposes on a person who is convicted of a criminal offence. Maximum sentences for different offences are set by law and in some cases there are minimum sentences. For example in the case of murder a sentence of life imprisonment is fixed by law.
  • Sentencing guidelines – set out a way for judges and magistrates to consider the seriousness of particular offences, and so decide on the appropriate sentence for each case. They set out different levels of sentence based on the harm caused to the victim and how much the offender is to blame for what happened.
  • Social research – the collection, analysis and dissemination of evidence to understand, develop, implement, monitor and evaluate government policies and services.  This may involve methods such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, observational techniques and the use of existing data sources.
  • Suspended sentencewhen a court passes a prison sentence of between 14 days and two years it may choose to suspend the sentence for up to two years. The offender must stay out of trouble and comply with up to 12 requirements set by the court.
  • Victim personal statement – a statement written by a victim explaining the effect the crime has had on them, any concerns they have and indicating any support that they need. Making a victim personal statement is optional. This is submitted at the same time as their witness statement and may be read by the victim, the prosecution lawyer or submitted as written evidence.
  • Victim surcharge charge which must be paid by an offender after they have pleaded guilty or been convicted. The amount depends on the circumstances of the offender and the sentence passed. This is separate from any fine or the criminal courts charge. It is used to fund victims’ services.
  • Whole life order/tariff– in murder cases, if the court decides that the offence is so serious that the offender should spend the rest of their life in prison they may impose a whole life order which means that the offender will never be released from prison.
  • Young offender– an offender aged 10 or over but under the age of 18. In England and Wales, the age of criminal responsibility is 10, under the age of 10 a child cannot be charged with a criminal offence. There are more types of sentence available when sentencing a youth.
  • Youth courts – part of the magistrates’ courts which deals with almost all cases of offenders aged under 18. Youth court hearings are generally private and members of the public are not allowed in.
  • Youth Justice Board – oversees the youth justice system in England and Wales and works to prevent offending and reoffending by young people under 18 and to ensure that custody is safe, secure and addresses the causes of their offending behaviour.