A sentencing hearing is when the judge or magistrates decide what punishment an offender will receive. If a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty by a court, they will become an offender and will need to be sentenced. Sometimes the offender will be sentenced immediately after the trial. Sometimes another court date will be set for the sentencing hearing.

How do sentencing guidelines help judges and magistrates reach a fair sentence?

What happens at a sentencing hearing?

If a defendant pleads or is found guilty in a magistrates’ court or the Crown Court, the judge or magistrates must decide on their sentence. At the sentencing hearing the court will assess all aspects of the offence and the offender to arrive at a sentence that is fair and proportionate. At a sentencing hearing:

  • the court will be told what the offender has been convicted of, whether and when they pleaded guilty and the verdict
  • the prosecution will outline the facts of the case, highlighting things that make it more or less serious, including the impact on any victims, and will tell the court about any previous convictions the offender has
  • the defence will respond by explaining the circumstances of the offence and the offender’s background – this is called mitigation
  • the lawyers for the prosecution and defence are likely to refer to any relevant sentencing guidelines and suggest what offence category the case falls into
  • if the offender has been convicted of an either-way offence in the magistrates’ court, the magistrates can commit the case to the Crown Court if they believe their sentencing powers are not adequate to reflect the seriousness of the offence
  • the court will pass sentence, following any mandatory sentencing rules and any relevant sentencing guidelines

In this video, you can listen to Judge Sarah Munro QC delivering sentencing remarks in a case heard at the Old Bailey. After setting out the facts of the case, the judge describes (from 12 minutes and 30 seconds) how she follows the steps of the manslaughter sentencing guideline to arrive at her final sentence. She talks about the defendant’s level of responsibility, the aggravating and mitigating factors she has applied, and the impact on the sentence of the defendant’s early guilty plea.

The video was filmed for Sky News on 28 July 2022 for the first ever broadcast of sentencing remarks from the Crown Court. Sky, BBC, ITN and PA Media (formerly the Press Association) are now able to apply to film and broadcast live sentencing remarks from cases heard in the Crown Court. The recordings are hosted by Sky News on a dedicated YouTube channel.

What happens when an offender pleads guilty?

If the offender pleads guilty, they will usually receive a reduced sentence. The rules covering guilty pleas are set out in the Council’s guideline Reduction in sentence for a guilty plea.

The magistrates’ court and Crown Court can impose various types of sentence. The court must explain the reasons for the sentence it has imposed.

The information on this page is a summary only and is not a substitute for legal advice.