14 July 2021
Reflecting sentencers’ voices in guideline research
Bethany Brewer and Harriet Miles of the Council’s Analysis and Research team say why we are recruiting volunteers to help us with our research
Judicial input into the Sentencing Council’s research is crucial to our work in developing and revising sentencing guidelines. Input from sentencers allows us to understand how guidelines might be used in practice and identify any potential problems or issues with them. It also means that we can take into consideration the views of the judges and magistrates who will be using our guidelines.
The Council seeks the views of judges and magistrates in various ways, including through formal consultation and face-to-face events and by asking for sentencers to volunteer to be part of our research ‘pool’. These volunteers help us develop and evaluate sentencing guidelines by participating in occasional research exercises. In our latest recruitment drive, we are asking any sentencers who are interested in how we develop guidelines and would be willing to help us in this work to let us know by filling in a short online form before 1 August 2021.
What is the research pool?
The Council’s research pool has been in existence since 2011. It is a voluntary group of sentencers who have said that they are happy for us to approach them from time to time about taking part in short research exercises. These exercises are designed to help inform the content of sentencing guidelines and to assess their potential impact on sentencing practice.
We update our research pool database regularly to make sure that we do not overburden individual volunteers and that we take into consideration the views of as wide a group of sentencers as possible when developing sentencing guidelines.
We hold all details securely and in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018. The Council’s privacy notice sets out how we protect personal information.
What does being a member of the pool involve?
Being in the research pool means that we will add your name to our database and get in touch with you occasionally to ask whether you would like to participate in a short research exercise.
The research usually takes the form of a short survey or interview on a particular guideline. Participation in any given exercise is, of course, voluntary, so each sentencer is simply asked to tell us whether they are willing to take part on that occasion.
We also try to reduce the burden on volunteers by scheduling interviews at a time and location convenient to them. Any interviews are currently taking place online due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
How have our research pool members helped the Council?
Previous contributions to our research exercises from members of the pool have been invaluable in developing and evaluating Sentencing Council guidelines. Recently, for example, members of the pool provided vital input into the research which fed into the revision of the assault guidelines.
The Council’s research team interviewed Crown Court and High Court judges about the new draft guideline for attempted murder. We used three different hypothetical case scenarios to understand how judges used the guideline in practice, allowing us to analyse how sentencers followed the guideline’s structured approach, how they approached different issues, and what this might mean for sentence outcomes.
We also interviewed Crown Court judges and magistrates to assess the new draft guidelines for common assault and assault occasioning ABH, focussing on two different potential future models for assessing the harm involved in the offences. We supplemented this research with a short survey completed by a large proportion of our pool of volunteers, which allowed us to analyse how sentencers categorised harm according to these alternative harm models. The contribution of our research volunteers to this piece of work was integral to allowing us to understand how we could ensure a more consistent approach to assessing harm among sentencers, which previous research had shown us could vary. The Council is very grateful to all members of the research pool who contributed to this phase of our work.
What is next for the research pool?
The Council has several research exercises planned for 2021, including for our burglary and terrorism guidelines. At the relevant time, we will contact members of the pool and ask whether they are willing and able to take part in that particular exercise.
If you are a sentencer who is willing to be contacted occasionally to participate in short research exercises informing our future work, please could you let us know by filling in this short form before 1 August 2021; it should take no longer than five minutes to complete. The Council is very grateful for any contributions you are able to provide to our future research and would like to thank you in advance for your support.