Glossary

A – E F – M N – Z
  • Fine – a financial punishment given for lower level crimes. The amount is set by the court after considering the seriousness of the offence and how much money the offender can pay. Fines can be given to organisations as well as people and are the most common type of sentence given.
  • Harm – the word used to describe the effect of a crime on the victim and the public in general. Harm is taken into account when sentencing. For example a person who causes serious injury will generally be sentenced more harshly than one who causes a minor injury.  
  • Historic offender – an offender whose offences occurred in the past, often when the law in the area or sentence levels were different to how they are now.
  • Home detention curfew – is a detention scheme whereby certain short-term criminals are released from prison several weeks to months before the completion of their sentence to allow them to integrate back into society. Certain offenders are not eligible, for example violent and sexual offenders. The offender will be tagged and a curfew imposed.
  • Indeterminate prison sentence – the court will set the minimum term that the offender must serve in prison which must be served in full before they come eligible for consideration to be released. Once this minimum term has been served the offender will only be released when the Parole Board is satisfied that the offender is safe to be released. If released, an offender will be on licence and supervised by the probation service. A life sentence is an indeterminate sentence.
  • Judges – experienced lawyers who are publicly appointed to preside over trials and pass sentences in criminal cases. They have to be unbiased and fair.
  • Judiciary – the name given to the judges, magistrates and tribunal members who deal with legal matters in England and Wales.
  • Jury – a group of normally 12 members of the public who decide if a defendant in a Crown Court trial is either guilty or not guilty of an offence, based on evidence presented in court.
  • Licence – this is a period of time after an offender is released from prison where they have abide by certain restrictions or risk being sent back to prison. These restrictions can include where someone lives, what work they do, where and when they can go out and will require them to see their supervising officer. How long an offender spends on licence depends when the offence was committed and what sentence was passed, for more information click here.
  • Life sentence – there are different types of life sentence, but in essence, the sentence lasts for the rest of the offender’s life. They will serve a period in prison set by the court and then only be released if the Parole Board thinks they are not a risk to the public. However, they can be recalled to prison at any time if at risk of breaking the terms of their parole. For the most serious cases, a ‘whole life order’ can be given, meaning the offender will spend the rest of their life in prison.
  • Lord Chancellor – government minister and member of the cabinet who is also the Secretary of State for Justice.
  • Lord Chief Justice – the Head of the Judiciary and President of the Courts in England and Wales. The Lord Chief Justice is also president of the Sentencing Council.
  • Magistrates – also known as Justices of the Peace (JPs). Magistrates are volunteers, aged between 18 and 70, who need no legal qualifications. They are given training and sit in magistrates’ courts as a bench of three, assisted by a legal advisor. Magistrates hear 95 per cent of all criminal cases in England and Wales.
  • Magistrates’ courts – nearly all criminal cases will start in magistrates’ courts. There are over 350 magistrates’ courts in England and Wales and they deal with over one million cases every year. If a case is more serious it is passed to the Crown Court.
  • Mitigating factorsthings that make an offence less serious and are likely to decrease the sentence.