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General guideline and expanded explanations

Published on:

24 July 2019

Judges and magistrates in criminal courts across England and Wales will have a new General guideline for sentencing offences that are not covered by a specific sentencing guideline from 1 October 2019.

The General guideline, published today by the Sentencing Council, will ensure that judges and magistrates follow a structured and consistent sentencing process.

Since 2010, the Sentencing Council has produced over 130 guidelines which cover most of the high-volume criminal offences sentenced by courts. However, some offences which are new or less common do not have a guideline and the General guideline will apply to these.

The Sentencing Council has also published expanded explanations which will be embedded in the existing offence specific guidelines, adding extra information to aggravating and mitigating factors to make it easier for courts to maintain consistency and transparency when sentencing.

The General guideline and expanded explanations will also help victims, defendants and the wider public understand the sentencing process. Both are now available to view on the Sentencing Council’s website, with an illustrative video.

The new guideline and expanded explanations replace and update the 2004 Seriousness guideline. Once they come into force on 1 October 2019, all old pdfs and paper versions will be obsolete and the Seriousness guideline will be withdrawn.

The General guideline:

  • will provide judges and magistrates with a clear structure to follow when sentencing new offences that do not yet have a guideline, and assist prosecution and defence representatives in structuring their submissions to court.
  • will be used for offences that are rarely sentenced and therefore have no guidelines, for example blackmail, wildlife offences or offences relating to planning.
  • is designed to provide guidance for sentencing a wide range of offences with different characteristics and different maximum sentences.
  • will also be used with offence specific sentencing guidelines where some factors are not covered and overarching guidance is required.
  • leaves wide discretion to judges and magistrates but aims to ensure that all relevant factors are considered and given appropriate weight in arriving at the final sentence.
  • is fully digital and easy to update when new information needs to be added.

Expanded explanations, which supplement the General guideline, will:

  • provide useful information in an easily accessible way to ensure the consistent and transparent application of factors in sentencing guidelines, but will not change the factors in guidelines.
  • take advantage of the fact that guidelines are now provided in a digital format, so the information can be provided from within individual sentencing guidelines.

In some cases, the explanations reflect case law or provide links to or extracts from existing overarching guidelines. This information will enable all those involved in sentencing to be aware of the relevant considerations.

The Sentencing Council is also improving the links within sentencing guideline to other relevant information, such as the Equal Treatment Bench Book.

Sentencing Council Chairman, Lord Justice Holroyde, said:

“The publication of the General guideline and expanded explanations marks an important change in the way sentencing guidelines are accessed and used in England and Wales. Since November 2018 sentencing guidelines have been published in digital format on the Sentencing Council website and now expanded explanations are embedded in all offence specific guidelines and in the General guideline.

“This provides additional information to assist sentencers and to improve transparency for all users of guidelines as well as for the public and any interested parties. Once the General guideline and expanded explanations are in force, old paper and pdf versions of the guidelines will be obsolete.” 

More information and a blog on the General guideline and expanded explanations is available on the Sentencing Council website.

A resource assessment has been published alongside this guideline.